CLEVELAND — With Democrats becoming the first major party to nominate a woman for president this year, Republicans already faced an uphill battle winning over female voters.
But in nominating a twice-divorced former beauty pageant owner who has at various times disparaged women for their looks, they face an even steeper climb.
And yet Republican women at this week’s Republican National Convention are standing by their nominee, mostly because they say his policies and leadership would be far better than Hillary Clinton’s.
“She doesn’t have a record to run on,” said Kim Reem, vice president of the National Federation of Republican Women. “What she has is the gender card and she’s playing it.”
Other Republican women, however, are not excusing Trump’s past comments.
Jennifer Lim, founder of Republican Women for Hillary, a group that isn’t attending the GOP convention, but will be at next week’s Democratic convention in Philadelphia, called Clinton “our last chance to stop Donald Trump.”
“You can just see from his comments throughout the campaign, he clearly thinks of women as second-class citizens,” Lim said.
Lim called Clinton a tested leader who has experience reaching across the aisle to work on programs such as adoption and children’s health insurance.
At the same time, she didn’t paint Clinton as the perfect candidate, noting her recent admission of making mistakes in handling classified emails on a private server.
“Of course we understand the reticence around Secretary Clinton, but when you’re comparing the two, there just isn’t a comparison when it comes to who’s safest for America,” Lim said.
In Wisconsin, Clinton has a significant lead among women both in a head-to-head matchup and in her net favorability rating, according to recent Marquette Law School polling.
In a heads-up match Clinton leads Trump 53-29 percent among women. Trump leads Clinton 45-33 among men, according to the July poll.
Among women, Trump has a net negative favorability rating of 49 points, whereas Clinton’s is 4 points. Among men, Clinton’s net negative rating is 39 points, while Trump’s is 23 points, according to an aggregate of polls from June and July.
“In past elections we sometimes see the men split more heavily pro-Republican than the women do pro-Democrat, and that is important about the gender gap — it applies to men as well and that can offset Dem advantages among women,” poll director Charles Franklin said in an email.
“However, this year the enormous gap among women is larger (so far) than that among men.”
Women in Wisconsin’s delegation to the Republican National Convention offered various thoughts about Trump’s challenges with female voters.
“I am surprised by the polling,” said Kelly Ruh, 37, a manufacturing executive from Green Bay. “I have yet to find one female who has an issue with him.”
“I think that he just doesn’t think before he speaks,” said Patty Reiman, 58, a nonprofit volunteer from Whitefish Bay. “He’s got to watch what he says. But he surrounds himself by really dynamic women, and I don’t take offense at that.”
“Obviously it wasn’t my first choice,” said Kathryn Heitman, 31, a legislative aide from Lyndon Station. “But anything is better than Hillary Clinton at this point.”
Others pointed to how Trump has raised his family, including his daughter Ivanka, who will speak at the convention on Thursday.
On Monday night, Trump’s wife Melania, a 46-year-old former model and Slovenian native, was scheduled to speak to the convention.
Also to be featured was Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, a combat veteran who gained national attention in 2014 for a campaign ad in which she talked about her experience castrating pigs and how she would cut pork barrel spending in Washington.
“With Hillary Clinton it’s always about her, when it should be about you,” Ernst said, according to prepared remarks.
“Donald Trump is focused on you. He gave voice to a movement of millions of Americans who are tired of politics as usual, and I know as president he will work tirelessly to keep our nation safe.”
Reem, of the GOP women’s federation who is also from Iowa, pointed to Ernst as a potential Republican candidate for president in the future.
She noted Republican women are focused on a variety of issues that don’t revolve around gender, such as national security, gun owner rights and who is nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“In my lifetime I believe we will elect a female president of the United States,” Reem said, before adding, “Not that woman. Not this year.”