September 11 2015
Washington (CNN)--For any other presidential candidate, making off-color -- and arguably sexist -- comments about a female competitor would likely result in an insurmountable problem with women voters.
Not so for Donald Trump. At least not yet.
A new CNN/ORC poll shows that Trump has increased his lead among Republican women, boosting his share to 33% of women voters, up from 20% a month ago.
The real estate tycoon has repeatedly defied the normal rules of politics, building his standing among almost every GOP demographic group and leaving his opponents scrambling for how to respond. Jeb Bush said that Trump couldn't insult his way to the White House, yet Trump's insult-heavy strategy appears to be working, as Bush sits at 9% in the polls.
Trump's success with Republican women follows a high-profile fight with Fox New's Megyn Kelly led both Republicans and Democrats to pound him over what many saw as gender-based attacks. Now, a Rolling Stone article has brought yet another headline-grabbing fight with a woman, this time with Carly Fiorina, who is the only woman in the GOP field.
"Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?" Trump said to a Rolling Stone writer. "Can you imagine that, the face of our next president."
Trump added: "I mean, she's a woman, and I'm not s'posedta say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?"
Fiorina, who has been out front in attacking Trump over his comments about women, said that she didn't want to waste time wondering what he meant.
"But maybe, just maybe, I'm getting under his skin a little bit, because I am climbing in the polls," she said in a Fox News interview.
But no candidate has climbed as much as Trump, who stands at 32% in the recent CNN/ORC poll.
In an interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo on "New Day," Trump went on clean-up duty, insisting that he was talking about Fiorina's persona and not her appearance. He also criticized her stewardship of Hewlett-Packard, where she was ousted as CEO.
But even with the Fiorina dust-up, Trump clearly wants to appeal to women, appearing Thursday morning on "The View," where he was taken to task for his comments.
The real estate tycoon framed himself as a leader on women's issues, singling out his opponents.
"Interesting thing is my daughter and wife say you should speak more about women's health issues because they know how strongly committed I am," Trump said. "And Jeb Bush and Hillary are not committed like I am."
Trump has repeatedly attacked Bush for questioning whether "we need half a billion dollars for women's health issues," a statement the former Florida governor later backed away from.
Trump's equal opportunity approach to hurling out loaded criticisms clearly resonates with some GOP women, who, like other Republicans, have been drawn to Trump's brash rhetoric.
"Although there was once a strong component of feminism and women's rights advocacy within the GOP, feminism is now strongly associated with the Democrats," said Catherine Rymph, who wrote the book "Republican Women." "So voters, including women, who don't like Democratic feminism or so-called 'political correctness' in general may very well find refreshing Trump's delight in using language about women that many find offensive."
Among Democrats, Trump's comments are pure red meat, underscoring a line of attack that has been at the center of their strategy in past election cycles.
Clinton, who has sought to brand the GOP as the party of Trump, later took a not-so-veiled swipe at Trump, who she has referred to as the "flamboyant front-runner."
"We hear from candidates on the other side about turning back the clock on women's rights," Clinton said Thursday at a Women for Hillary event in Columbus, Ohio. "And there is one particular candidate who just seems to delight in insulting women any chance he gets. I have to say, if he emerges, I would love to debate him."
Democratic National Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz called Trump's comments misogynistic.
"Yesterday, in an interview, he even had the nerve to make an outrageous comment about one of his fellow candidate's looks, so I'm sorry, I'm just, I'm not really willing to give Donald Trump credit for very credible, substantive beliefs," Wasserman Schultz said when asked about his actual policy proposals."
In hypothetical match-ups, Clinton fares best against Trump among women, leading him by double digits.
Burned by the gender gap in 2012, the GOP has tried to broaden its appeal to women by recruiting women candidates and downplaying divisive cultural issues. Trump, who was challenged in the first Republican debate over comments he made about women and got into a prolonged fight with Kelly, doesn't broaden the GOP's appeal to independent women.
"He is a bully and he is obnoxious and he is all things that women don't really want in a husband in an employer or their president," said Katie Packer, who runs a firm dedicated to helping the GOP expand their appeal to women. "But there is a segment of Republican women who will put up with anything, as long as they have someone who will 'tell it like is,' because that's all they care about. He is doing well among the women that we already get."
Packer is neutral in the race, but she is founding partner of WWP Strategies, which works for GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio in Michigan.
Trump has staked his candidacy on a brand of populist bombast, with a hawkish approach to illegal immigration at its core.
Among Republican women, 52% say that issue is "extremely important," with 45% of men saying the same thing, suggesting that women are slightly more attuned to this issue.
Since he joined the race for the White House, Trump has drowned out his opponents, forcing them to go on the attack to try to regain some ground.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, whose seen his poll numbers plummet, struck out at the businessman on Twitter: "Trump's personal attacks against @CarlyFiorina are plain inappropriate and wrong. It's time for these shameless attacks to end."
Fiorina has argued that she is the ideal candidate to run against Clinton, as she would blunt the appeal of a historic run, but she remains at the bottom of the GOP pack. Among women, she draws just 3% support. Engaging with Trump has proved a risky strategy for his opponents, with some seeing their poll numbers drop after taking him on. Yet for FIorina, such a move could pay dividends by allowing her to highlight her agenda and unique place in a crowded field.
"I think Carly Fiorina is saying good things, and she is the only one speaking up," said Sabrina Schaeffer, the executive director of the Independent Women's Forum, "She is the only one responding to the progressive women's agenda, which is going to be a cornerstone of the Democrat's campaign. It's a lost opportunity if the other Republicans stay silent."