WASHINGTON — When a columnist wrote an essay last month accusing President Donald Trump of sexual assault, the president dismissed the accusation, in part, by saying that she was “not my type" and that it didn’t happen.
When a top White House aide was accused of domestic violence, Trump wished the aide well and praised his hard work.
And over the weekend Trump, targeted four Democratic women of color on Twitter, urging them to “go back” to their countries, though all four are U.S. citizens, three of them born in the United States.
That’s just a partial accounting of the behavior that has contributed to abysmal approval ratings among women.
The president and his campaign, though, are hoping to improve his standing, starting with the launch of “Women for Trump” on Tuesday in King of Prussia, which represents exactly the kind of area — with high numbers of college-educated voters — where women have most strongly rejected the president.
The campaign is sending a list of heavy hitters for the group’s national kick-off, including Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law, Republican National Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel; several prominent female commentators; and his campaign manager, Brad Parscale.
“This group is going to create an opportunity for women who believe in the president’s message of prosperity and freedom to take a really engaged role in the campaign,” said Erin Perrine, a spokeswoman for the Trump campaign.
The group will encourage women to support Trump through fund-raising, training activists, and registering voters, and, the campaign hopes, encourage them to speak up for Trump, even when the president faces criticism.
“Given the relentless negative coverage of the president, we see on the campaign that some women are afraid to more vocally share their support of the president," Perrine said. “The goal is to help empower women to share the message of success of this presidency.”
The event also comes days after a prominent GOP woman, Bernadette “Bernie” Comfort, was named the Pennsylvania chair for Trump’s reelection campaign.
Still, Trump has a long way to go with women.
He 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.
And while 52 percent of men approved of Trump in a CNN poll from late June, 62 percent of women disapproved.
“The women of my district are appalled at many of the things that this president stands for, many of the behaviors he exhibits, his misogyny, his disinterest in women’s lives and women’s rights," said U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean (D., Pa.), who represents King of Prussia and most of Montgomery County.
Dean was one of four Pennsylvania women who captured GOP-held seats last year as part of a national, woman-led backlash against the president. Democrats predicted similar energy from newly engaged women activists in 2020.
“We believe that those women see Trump for who he is," said Christina Reynolds, a spokeswoman for EMILY’s List, which backs female candidates who support abortion rights. “If they’re looking to expand his universe [of support], they’re going to need different policy and a different candidate."
As with any large demographic group, experts said there are distinctions when it comes to how women view the president.
Republican women, like their male counterparts, largely approve of what he has done. So do white women who have not gone to college. Trump won 52 percent of white women’s votes in 2016.
But nearly 95 percent of black women and nearly 70 percent of Latinas opposed Trump, said Dana Brown, executive director of the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics at Chatham University.
Women of color, though, have long voted heavily Democratic, even before Trump came onto the political scene, and women overall have regularly favored Democrats, while most men support Republicans.
(In the U.S. House, there were only 13 Republican women at the start of this Congress, against 89 female Democrats).
The biggest shift among voters has come among college-educated white women, said Kelly Dittmar, an assistant professor at Rutgers’ Center for the American Woman and Politics. Republican Mitt Romney won the group by 6 percentage points in 2012. Trump lost them by 6, Dittmar said.
They have been trending away from Republicans for some time, Dittmar said, but as with many issues, Trump’s behavior language, and demeanor — far outside the norm for either political party — have fueled many women who oppose him.
“When I was running for Congress, in my community, it became an issue, civility and decency coming from the top," said Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D., Pa.), who responded to Trump’s election by making her first-ever run for public office.
She won a House seat based in Chester County, which has traditionally voted Republican, but drastically shifted toward Democrats in 2016 and 2018. The victory made Houlahan one of four Pennsylvania women who won last year in largely suburban congressional districts with high concentrations of college-educated voters.
At the same time, Dittmar noted that women may base their presidential vote on a wide range of issues. Some may vote based on class or race identity. Others on party loyalty. Some may put economic concerns above all else, and on that front Trump has received largely positive marks according to public polling.
It’s also the issue that Trump’s campaign has put front and center. Since Trump’s inauguration, the economy has added 3.2 million new jobs filled by women, Perrine said, citing Bureau of Labor Statistics data. That’s 57 percent of the total during his tenure, she said.
Trump, of course, is unlikely to win over most women, but with the 2016 election coming down to such small margins, even a small improvement — or slippage — could make a major difference in 2020.