Real estate mogul Donald Trump snagged his first major win of the primary season on Tuesday night. Moments after the polls closed in New Hampshire, Trump was declared the winner, with 34 percent of the Republican vote — more than twice that of his nearest rival, Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Certainly, the win is good news for ultra-conservative voters attracted to Trump’s unpolished approach to policy and politics. But what does Trump’s victory mean for women voters? Despite Trump’s rhetoric to the contrary, the potential impact on women is frighteningly clear.
Trump’s New Hampshire win was widely predicted in the weeks leading up to the New Hampshire primaries. But in a surprising turn, he performed well among voters beyond his typical audience. According to an ABC News exit poll, Trump claimed a high percentage of conservative voters, voters concerned about the federal government and the Republican party, and those looking for a candidate willing to “tell it like it is.” But Trump also reportedly did well among evangelicals and women, two groups that he’s struggled to connect with in recent months.
So what does Donald Trump’s surprising toe-hold with New Hampshire's female voters mean? There’s actually more than one way to look at it.
The Bad: Trump’s Victory Legitimizes His Laundry List of Anti-Feminist Statements
To say that Donald Trump has trouble talking to or about women would be an understatement. Since his campaign’s infancy, Trump has made a flurry of sexist and patronizing comments to women, including his repeated sexist attacks on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, his personal attack on rival GOP candidate Carly Fiorina, his gross comments to FOX News host Megyn Kelly, and his poor treatment of female reporters covering his campaign.
Trump’s victory in New Hampshire could be painted as acceptance of his rants against women (and common decency). And of course, in a political climate where disrespect and indecency are not just tolerated but promoted, no woman can win.
The Not-So-Bad: Some Of The Other GOP Candidates Are Offering Worse
In a slate of candidates that have taken clear — and often rigid — views when it comes to women’s rights, Trump has been pretty opaque.
According to CNN, in 1999, Trump called himself pro-choice, even though he was against “the concept of abortion.” While campaigning in Iowa last month, Trump said he’d changed his position and was “pro-life,” though he demurred on what restrictions he’d see on legal abortions or the legal consequences for women and their doctors.
That’s a sharp contrast to others in the Republican party who’ve been staunchly against abortion under any circumstances. Sen. Marco Rubio is against abortion unless the mother’s life is at risk, a point of view which put him in the awkward position recently of saying he preferred pregnant rape victims to have their rapist’s baby anyway. While Rubio’s views far right of his GOP rivals, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have both taken clear positions against abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or when the woman’s life is in danger.
In the GOP debate in New Hampshire, the Republican contenders were clear in their positions on whether women should register for the selective service. While Rubio and Christie said women should have the chance to serve, Sen. Ted Cruz called the prospect “immoral,” MSNBC reported. The moderator didn’t pose the question to Trump during the debate, and he didn’t attempt to respond.
Trump’s lack of clarity on policies that relate to women could mean that he hasn’t firmed up a position — or even (dare I say it?) that he’s open to take a more moderate approach. But what’s clear is that by staying silent, it appears that his rivals are offering far worse.
The Real Takeaway: Trump’s Victory Is Masking A Deeper Problem For The GOP
Trump’s victory in New Hampshire was remarkable because of just how many constituent groups knitted together to make it possible. But perhaps the bigger takeaway was that nearly 65 percent of conservative New Hampshire voters didn’t choose Donald Trump on Tuesday night. And with women making up arguably half of that (much larger) group of constituents, it might be safer to say that Trump’s win actually signals a bigger, looming problem for the Republican party in the coming months. We’ll have to wait and see how the chaos plays out.