Does Donald Trump have a "woman problem?"
The Republican frontrunner's latest controversy – another feud with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly – is reigniting concerns about Trump's attitude toward women.
After Fox News refused to meet Trump's demands that Ms. Kelly be replaced, the billionaire businessman decided to skip the debate.
Trump has called Kelly unfair for questioning his controversial comments about women in the first GOP debate in August. (This week, Trump tweeted, "I refuse to call Megyn Kelly a bimbo, because that would not be politically correct. Instead I will only call her a lightweight reporter!")
While the debate duck may be more about strategy than Kelly – he's eating up another news cycle and winding down the clock before the Iowa caucuses – the exchange has revived questions about whether Trump can be counted on to win the female vote.
The outspoken candidate has made headlines throughout his campaign for a litany of inflammatory comments about women, and while polls show a gender gap in his support, the comments appear to have done little to blunt his meteoric rise.
Still, Trump can't afford to lose women voters. Women are expected to comprise 52 to 54 percent of the electorate in November, a number that may swell if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee. In hypothetical match-ups, among women voters, Mrs. Clinton leads Trump by double digits.
And while Trump's popularity continues unabated – a recent poll has him topping 40 percent support among Republicans – another national poll found Trump was perceived negatively by 62 percent of women, compared with 32 percent for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, his biggest rival.
That's not surprising, considering Trump's long list of misogynistic moments on the trail.
Among those he's attacked are Kelly (“blood coming out of her whatever"), Republican rival Carly Fiorina ("Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?"), Clinton (“If Hillary can’t satisfy her husband, what makes her think she can satisfy America?”), and comedian Rosie O'Donnell ("fat pig").
He's even come under fire for comments about his own daughter, saying, “If Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her."
To be sure, some of Trump's past and current female employees have also praised the businessman for nurturing and promoting women in a male-dominated industry. Today, according to Trump’s attorney, Michael Cohen, there are more women than men holding executive positions in the Trump organization, though those figures couldn't be confirmed.
And while polls do show a gender gap in Trump's support – a Fox News poll had Trump at 46 percent among men and just 30 percent among women – his comments haven't stifled Trump's standing. Why?
Trump is “an equal opportunity offender,” Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University, told the Guardian. “He offends immigrants and women, he’ll offend people across the spectrum.”
For his supporters, Trump's brash call-it-as-you-see-it candor is part of his appeal as an outsider candidate who isn't afraid to flout convention – and what he calls political correctness (which critics say in this case could more accurately be called "common politeness").
What's more, his coalition in the primaries relies heavily on less-educated male voters, the very voters least likely to mind Trump's crude comments about women. The female vote is less important in Republican primaries, because women are more likely than men to be Democrats, so they make up a minority of the GOP electorate, points out Politico.
But the gender equation would change dramatically in a general election, where women make up more than half the electorate, and in which Clinton would, in hypothetical match-ups among women, beat Trump by a landslide.
And not all GOP women are willing to give Trump a pass.
A group of state and national pro-life leaders are urging Iowa voters to support anyone except Donald Trump, referring to him as a man who “has impugned the dignity of women."
"As women, we are disgusted by Mr. Trump’s treatment of individuals, women, in particular. He has impugned the dignity of women, most notably Megyn Kelly, he mocked and bullied Carly Fiorina, and has through the years made disparaging public comments to and about many women...Therefore we urge our fellow citizens to support an alternative candidate," the pro-life activists said in a letter circulated to Iowa voters.
In characteristic fashion, Trump, for his part, has displayed nothing but self-assured confidence.
“I will be the best thing that ever happened to women,” he told CNN in August. “I cherish women.”