Republican women are abandoning Donald Trump in a historic repudiation of their party’s nominee, a devastating development for the GOP candidate’s chances one month before Election Day.
Trump’s lewd, sexually aggressive comments about women, revealed in a 2005 audio recording that became public Friday, have prompted large-scale defections, from female Republican senators to conservative activists in the swing states. That dynamic further jeopardizes his chances with women voters, including white, married voters who typically back Republicans. After nearly two years of listening to Trump denigrate women — including Fox News host Megyn Kelly, Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, Heidi Cruz and former Miss Universe Alicia Machado — Republican women have had enough.
A mass desertion by white, married women would effectively torpedo Trump’s chances of defeating Hillary Clinton. That demographic has been a core part of every Republican nominee’s constituency this century — Mitt Romney and John McCain won 53 percent of married women, and still lost the election — meaning that Trump, who struggles far more with party unity than previous nominees have, has even less room for error. But he is already losing badly with women overall, and Friday’s bombshell threatens to set him back further with women of all marital statuses.
High-profile Republican women over the weekend made clear that they have zero interest in helping Trump regain his footing, instead offering cover to other lawmakers looking to abandon Trump.
“I wanted to be able to support my party’s nominee, chosen by the people, because I feel strongly that we need a change in direction for our country,” said New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who is in a competitive re-election fight in a key swing state. “However, I’m a mom and an American first, and I cannot and will not support a candidate for president who brags about degrading and assaulting women.”
Ayotte will be writing in Trump running mate Mike Pence, she said. New Hampshire GOP Chair Jennifer Horn backed her up, saying in a statement, “there will be no repercussions from the party directed at those who choose not to support Donald Trump.”
One particularly notable defection: Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), who is perhaps Trump’s most prominent female defender in the Senate.
“The comments made by Mr. Trump were disgusting and totally unacceptable under any circumstance,” she tweeted. “It would be wise for him to step aside and allow Mike Pence to serve as our party’s nominee.”
Fiorina, once a target of Trump’s trash talk — “look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?” he mocked during the primary — released a statement Saturday asking the Republican National Committee to replace Trump with Pence.
“Donald Trump does not represent me or my party,” she said. “I understand the responsibility of Republicans to support their nominee. Our nominee has weighty responsibilities as well. Donald Trump has manifestly failed in these responsibilities.”
In perhaps the most explosive moment to date in a campaign that has already been littered with shocking developments, an audio recording of a hot mic moment from 2005, first reported by the Washington Post, captures Trump bragging about groping women, without their consent.
“I don’t even wait,” he said. “And when you’re a star they let you do it…Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”
In a sign of how toxic Republicans expect this remark to be in swing states, Rep. Barbara Comstock, who faces a competitive race in her moderate northern Virginia district, was among the first lawmakers to urge Trump to exit the race. But it’s not just Republican women from moderate states: Rep. Martha Roby, from deep-red Alabama, also called on Trump to get out of the race in a statement Saturday morning.
“Donald Trump’s behavior makes him unacceptable as a candidate for president, and I won’t vote for him,” she tweeted.
And West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, whose state is a Trump stronghold, said, “the appropriate next step may be for him to reexamine his candidacy.” Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah) was one of several members of the Utah delegation to call on Trump to exit the race. Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) did the same.
Such high-profile Republican rebukes come as early and absentee voting has already gotten underway in some key states, making it all the more difficult for Trump to regain his footing.
“Yesterday made me even more sick,” said Heidi Wixom, a Republican activist in Nevada. “It was kind of like, ‘Oh great, we’ve got Bill Clinton all over again,’ except Bill Clinton had class, intelligence about working with policy, so we could overlook a lot of things. But with Trump, how do you overlook this when he’s already a buffoon to start with? He doesn’t have any redeeming qualities for me, he doesn’t.”
But for all of her concerns about Trump, before Friday’s development, she had been slowly starting to consider whether she could hold her nose and vote for him. No more.
“I was starting to say, OK, I’m looking more at party policy, looking at vice presidential candidates, looking at the realities of the Supreme Court nominees,” said Wixom, who is involved in the Mormon community, which has emerged as an anti-Trump bastion. “I was just starting to say, ‘OK, I think I can go for this man because of all of the above.’ But now I’m back to, wow, what do I do now? I really cannot stomach this.”
Across the country, it’s the same story with center-right women in Pennsylvania, who were, most recently, deeply troubled by Trump’s Twitter assaults—barely more than a week ago—on Machado, the Miss Universe winner who has emerged as a Trump critic. The audio only compounds their distaste for Trump.
“Obviously it does not play well with those people who have either not made their decisions, or maybe tentatively were supporting,” said Leslie Gromis Baker, a former chief of staff to Gov. Tom Corbett (R-Pa.) who lives in the Pittsburgh suburbs. “I think this would have a major impact on them. I’m not saying they’re going to support Hillary Clinton, but I think they’re going to have a very difficult time supporting Donald Trump.”
Kristen Mayock, who served as a Republican area chair for nearly a decade in the Philadelphia suburbs, told POLITICO last weekend that Trump “has made some statements that have been concerning for those of us who call ourselves feminists,” and added that he was struggling in Chester County, a key, usually Republican-leaning collar county, especially compared to Mitt Romney.
In an email Saturday, she made clear where her focus is: “Trump’s comments are simply indefensible,” said Mayock, who is based in Chester County, a typically Republican-leaning collar county of Philadelphia. “I am hopeful that our intelligent voters in the county recognize that we have some incredibly qualified and dedicated candidates running down ticket.”
Trump’s challenge in wealthier, well-educated places like Chester County is fueled by his longtime struggles with women, particularly college-educated women, including those who usually vote Republican. One high-ranking Republican official from the county remarked, “I would’ve thought 70 percent unfavorable is as bad as it can get. But this may bump it up a bit more.”
Alex Smith, the first female president of the College Republican National Committee, tweeted, “The Party of Lincoln is not a locker room, and there is no place for people who think it is. Definitely not with her, but not with him.”
A high-ranking New Hampshire Republican said that in her state, the Trump remarks are disastrous with women.
“This just confirms the concerns that those women had all along,” the source said. “It’s worse, but it’s not unsuspected. And it’s not just center-right women. In New Hampshire we really have to worry about independent voters, no one wins New Hampshire without the independent vote…I think this just confirms it for these people who have had concerns, it’s what they suspected all along.”
Said one conservative female operative: “I think every one of these comments he makes about women is disturbing enough, but the magnitude over a period is just too much.”
Burgess Everett contributed to this report.