Lara Trump took the stage in a convention room at the Valley Forge Casino Resort and gave the crowd a puzzled look.
“I’m a little confused,” President Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law said. “I didn’t think women liked Donald Trump!”
A crowd of about 1,000, mostly women, waving flags and wearing “Make America Great Again” hats, cheered and laughed back.
The rally launched the president’s national “Women for Trump” campaign, aimed at bettering Trump’s support among women. The group hopes to encourage women to fund-raise, train volunteers, register voters, and speak proudly about their support, which several in the crowd said can be difficult.
Trump lost among women voters by 13 percentage points in 2016, according to exit polling data. The gap between his support among women (41 percent) and men (52 percent) was tied for the largest difference in recent U.S. history, according to data compiled by Rutgers University’s Center for the American Woman and Politics, though it was only 1 percentage point greater than in 2012.
But part of the narrative Tuesday was to challenge those polls and Democratic critics who say Trump is anti-woman.
“The difference between our party and Democrats is, we treat women as the whole voter,” said Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel. “Women care about health care, we care about education, we care about our military, we care about our economy, and yes, we do care about the unborn!” she said to loud cheers.
The campaign brought out some of its top female advisers and high-profile Trump supporters for the event, including campaign manager Brad Parscale; former White House communications director Mercedes Schlapp; Trump 2016 presidential campaign spokesperson Katrina Pierson; and Lara Trump, who is married to Eric Trump.
Conservative blogger celebrities Diamond and Silk also made an appearance and sent the crowd off with an “All Aboard the Trump Chain! Choo! Choo!” chant.
Parscale said 50 percent of people working on Trump’s 2020 campaign are women. He said half of donations coming in this year were from women, up from 25 percent in 2016.
Launching in King of Prussia was no accident: Parscale said the campaign used voter data to pick the location.
“The women in this room could be integral,” he said. “If we win Pennsylvania by 5,000 votes, it might be because everyone in this room walks out and gets four people to vote, it could be the difference.”
Lara Trump encouraged the crowd to bring in new supporters. She told the crowd that the media and Democrats “don’t make it easy. They try to make you feel bad about it. You get criticized.”
She suggested they keep in mind the images that came out of the Javits Center when Hillary Clinton lost on election night 2016. “Remember those tears? Think about how much more their heads are going to explode in 2020 when he gets reelected,” she said. “If you need something to keep you going.”
The morning’s speakers bashed the media over the course of an hour, saying news reports have given the false impression Trump has no support among women.
“Mainstream media says we don’t exist. They don’t want to admit that women are proud to stand for President Trump,” said Kimberly Guilfoyle, a senior adviser to the campaign who is dating Donald Trump Jr.
“If you ask me, it’s the Democrats that are having trouble with women,” she said, going on to mention tensions between newly elected progressive congresswomen and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “Oh, boy, you’ve got a few of them getting a little unruly and giving Mama Pelosi a hard time.… It’s like the ‘New Housewives of D.C.’ Pop the popcorn!”
In the crowd, Trump’s Twitter comment that four Democratic women of color should “go back” to their countries, despite three of them having been born in the United States, was a popular topic. Many dismissed or defended the comments.
“Look, I was born in Nicaragua and I came to this country in 1980, legally, and I tell people that all the time,” said Guadalupe Caswell, who attended the rally with her 11-year-old daughter. “If they’re going to attack and attack him, what do they expect?”
Annamarie Scannapieco of Gilbertsville said Trump’s comments sometimes make her cringe but he still has her full support.
“I know he crosses the line, but you have to look at the whole country. It’s about a bigger picture,” said Scannapieco. She is running for Montgomery County coroner, inspired in part, she said, by the president’s win. “I think he’s empowered women instead of held them down. He was a long shot, dismissed, and look at him now.”
Pennsylvania Democrats quickly responded to the event, blasting Trump on a media call, arguing that his policies have hurt women’s access to health care and abortion and let down working-class voters whom he had promised to help.
“When I first heard about this, I thought, ‘Women for Trump,’ I can’t even say it with a straight face,” said Nancy Patton Mills, chair of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party. “He’s in for a rude awakening here in Pennsylvania.”
She and other Trump critics pointed to his policies on health care, abortion, the economy, and immigration — accusing him of cruelly treating migrant families, while also emphasizing the president’s personal treatment of women, including numerous accusations of sexual assault.
“Trump’s priorities are not our priorities, and Trump’s values are very definitely not our values,” said Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director of the family advocacy group Moms Rising. “Trump has no moral compass and the moms of America know it."