Donald Trump blasts female Hispanic GOP governor. What is he thinking?

In theory, Trump should be unifying his party and seeking to boost his poor appeal with women and minorities. But his rise as a candidate has been about embracing division, not smoothing it over.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump holds a rally with supporters in Albuquerque, N.M., on May 24.

Why is Donald Trump attacking a female Hispanic Republican governor – in her own state?

Trump pulled this somewhat head-scratching stunt Tuesday night in Albuquerque when he went after New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez. At a rally bedeviled by protesters outside the venue, The Donald went full throttle inside, saying Governor Martinez is to blame for many of the state’s economic problems, including a big rise in the number of people receiving food stamps.

She’s also allowed too many Syrian refugees into New Mexico, said Trump, overlooking the fact that it is the federal government that has most of the control over such resettlements.

“Your governor has got to do a better job. She’s not doing the job. Hey! Maybe I’ll run for governor of New Mexico,” Trump said.

We get it – Martinez hasn’t endorsed Trump, reportedly speaks ill of him in private, and had plans to be elsewhere during Trump’s Tuesday Enchantment State appearance.

But House Speaker Paul Ryan hasn’t endorsed Trump either and Trump’s been pretty nice to him.

In political terms, dissing Martinez seems to make no sense. She’s a Republican, and Trump says he’s unifying the party. She’s a woman and Hispanic, two electoral groups with whom Trump needs to do a lot better. Did we mention Martinez is head of the Republican Governor’s Association?

Perhaps Trump’s just being Trump. He got this far by saying whatever he feels like, and he’s not going to stop and overanalyze every word, like most politicians. Or analyze at all, over or otherwise.

But in electoral terms he may be onto something. Trump’s path to victory features division, not unity. Polarization among voters is his friend.

The gender gap may be the best example of this. Criticizing a prominent female member of the GOP presumably won’t help Trump’s standing with women, which is awful. However, Trump does great with men. At the moment the net result of this actually helps him. So sowing discord between genders may be to his advantage.

Sean Trende, chief elections analyst for RealClearPolitics, makes this point on Wednesday in an interesting piece. He points to recent polling which shows the existing gender gap hurting likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. In a recent ABC/Washington Post poll, Clinton leads Trump among women by 16 percentage points, for instance. But among men, she trails Trump by 22. A Fox survey shows similar results, with Clinton leading among women by 14, but losing men by 22.

Then there’s race and economics. Whites without a college degree now support Trump by a much wider margin than they did Romney in 2012, points out Washington Post data analyst Philip Bump. They favor Trump by a hefty 40 percentage points over Clinton.

Lower-income whites often resent government spending on food stamps and other assistance, despite their own reliance on the programs. They see it as something wasted on other racial and economic groups they perceive as not pulling their weight.

The bottom line: Trump probably had no larger plan in mind when inveighing against Gov. Martinez. But white males, and particularly white males without college degrees, are his staunchest supporters. If he wins the White House it will likely be due to his ability to mobilize these groups. That could be more important to him then limiting his losses among women and minorities.

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