“If you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman.” Margret Thatcher said that in 1965, but she could have been referring to the 2016 Republican primary, where the party’s men have a lot to say about Donald Trump, but a handful of Republican women seem to be the only ones willing to do whatever it takes to stop him from getting the party’s presidential nomination.
While Trump rocketed to GOP dominance over the summer on a wave of voter anger and mean tweets, the men running against Trump at first ignored, and then responded to him with a few carefully curated insults of their own. Jeb Bush called Trump “a jerk.” Burn. Rand Paul called him “a delusional narcissist.” You read that right. Bobby Jindal labeled Trump “a madman who must be stopped” just before he dropped out of the race, and Lindsey Graham never stopped calling Trump whatever was on his mind. But with the exception of John Kasich’s super PAC in New Hampshire, not one campaign or Republican super PAC put money behind ending the rise of Trump. No ads, no oppo, no nothing.
Luckily for the GOP, and no thanks to the party’s “establishment,” such as it is, a trio of Republican women are stepping up. Between them, they have decades of experience, money to spend, and the guts to do it.
Katie Packer Gage, Mitt Romney’s deputy campaign manager in 2012, announced last week that she’s founded Our Principles PAC, just the second GOP-led effort this cycle designed specifically to stop Trump. The first one came in November from Liz Mair, a former RNC spokeswoman and adviser to Scott Walker’s presidential bid, who launched Trump Card, an LLC that to go directly after Trump, but keeps its donors secret to protect the innocent and the guilty.
The latest and largest anti-Trump effort is coming from Kellyanne Conway, a longtime Republican pollster who is heading up Keep the Promise PAC I, an $11 million super PAC supporting Ted Cruz. Conway announcedMonday that her super PAC will run three anti-Trump attack ads as a part of a major $2.5 million buy in Iowa and South Carolina this week. That makes Conway’s only the second major super PAC effort to go directly after Trump in a big way.
In a party that “looks like an Elk’s Club meeting,” as Conway told me, why does it take women to put money, not just insults, behind slowing the momentum of a man who seems to be offending his way to the nomination and calling it honesty? It’s partly because the women in the GOP’s professional ranks seem to have an ear for recognizing the blatantly outrageous when they hear it– and the will to do something to spot it.
In October, Gage was one of the first Republicans to raise an alarm about what a Trump nomination could do to the GOP brand among women. “There is an existing problem that women view Republicans as old grouchy white misogynists and we need to do everything we can this cycle to change that,” she warned in an interview with Politico. “And he’s definitely stopping us in our tracks on that.”
When Trump mocked Carly Fiorina’s face in an interview with Rolling Stone, Liz Mair was one of few who called him out, pointing out that the race to be commander in chief “isn’t the Miss Universe pageant.”
Conway told me she’s studied Trump’s strengths and weakness with female voters and that the weakness outweigh the strengths. “For every women who is attracted to Trump as the non-political, non-traditional outsider, there are two or three women who say they don’t like bullies. They don’t like the attack on Bush’s low energy, they don’t like telling Rand Paul, ‘I’m at 42 percent, you’re at four.’ They don’t appreciate talking about Carly Fiorina by saying “Look at that face, look at that face!”
Even though Trump has assured supporters at his rallies that he “cherishes” women, poll after poll shows large majorities of American women don’t seem to cherish him and would not vote for him, given the chance. As far back as August, a CNN/ ORC poll, showed Trump with a 70 percent disapproval rating among women nationwide. That same month, Trump led the early polls in Iowa, but his lack of support among Republican women there was glaring. While 27 percent of men supported Trump, just 12 percent of women did. Fast forward five months and not much has changed. The latest Bloomberg/ Des Moines Register poll showed Ted Cruz leading among Republican women in Iowa with 28 percent, while Trump trailed in third with just 13 percent.
Trump seems to know he’s has work to do with women, especially in Iowa. His first radio ad in Iowa featured his eldest daughter Ivanka, a poised, even-tempered professional who is the best evidence we have that Trump can do at least something right. Trump also flew in Sarah Palin to give the hard sell to Iowa’s “rock n’ roller, holy roller, full-time mom” demographic. “You with the hands that rock the cradle,” Palin called. “You all make the world go round, and now our cause is one.”
Never mind that “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle” is a horror movie or that the rest of Palin’s pep talk was largely head scratching, Trump and Palin’s cause is one.
Stopping Trump has become a cause for some other GOP women. And for the sake of their party’s long-term health, Republicans are lucky to have them.