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Will women voters balk at Trump?

Republican women seem undaunted by Trump. Women in the general election may be another story.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to guests during a rally at Macomb Community College on March 4, 2016 in Warren, Mich. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to guests during a rally at Macomb Community College on March 4, 2016 in Warren, Mich.

A certain macho swagger has always been an undercurrent in mainstream politics, particularly among Republicans, who style themselves as the daddy party.  But what about a literal penis-measuring contest, spearheaded by at least two major Republican candidates? A front-runner who brags that he could have made the party's last nominee "drop to his knees," as Donald Trump did this week when discussing Mitt Romney's past acceptance of his endorsement? A man whose go-to way to talk about women, including his own daughter, is whether he's sexually attracted to them? 

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"Given Republican candidates' obsession with talking about the female anatomy, I guess we should take it as a sign of progress that they’re talking about their own," said Marcy Stech, communications director at EMILY's List, which works to elect pro-choice Democratic women. 

We are past the point at which it can be reasonably expected that Trump's antics will make a dent with conservative women, who make up a good chunk of his support, if a slightly smaller piece of the Republican electorate overall. They have stuck by Trump through "schlonged" and through suggestions that Megyn Kelly asked tough questions because she was menstruating.  

But four years after the support of women re-elected Barack Obama, the general electorate may be different. Women voters, who are, as a whole, slightly less likely to pick Republicans in a presidential election, could be motivated to turn out for Hillary Clinton, particularly if they are women of color, the backbone of the Democratic party. Trump's sexist remarks, compounded with his demands for Obama's birth certificate and desire to build a wall between Mexico and the United States, could be motivation enough. 

Though national polls only give a limited picture in a country that doesn't elect presidents by a popular vote, recent surveys that pit Clinton against Trump show a marked gender gap -- the difference in the percentage of women and men voting for a given candidate. A national Quinnipiac poll conducted in early February found that women were likelier to support Clinton over Trump by 11 points, creating a 9 point gender gap overall. A survey of Ohio voters by the same group found a 17 point gender gap in Clinton's favor. 

Trump certainly gives groups that seek to rally women voters a lot to run with during a general election. EMILY's List helped Sen. Claire McCaskill eke out a victory against then-Rep. Todd Akin in 2012, partly on the strength of his comments about "legitimate rape" and the attention Akin's words drew to his no-exceptions stance on abortion. 

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Trump's pronouncements make Akin look like a diplomat. But the very audacity and vulgarity that seems to delight Republican voters could disgust in a national race. "This may have been amusing with Republican base voters," Stech said, "but it’s the exact behavior that prevents women being part of the Republican party."

Conversely, Trump's conditional support of Planned Parenthood -- which he has repeatedly said is good for women but should not get federal funding because its affiliates also provide abortions -- may be an attempt to reach those same general election female voters. Even after a sting-video campaign that accused Planned Parenthood of criminal trafficking in fetal organs (and so far has resulted in no charges except against the video makers), the organization remains very popular. 

Planned Parenthood, whose PAC has endorsed Hillary Clinton, has flatly resisted Trump's advances. 

"Women would lose access to birth control, could be charged more than men for health insurance, could have domestic violence and pregnancy disqualify them from health insurance coverage, would no longer be able to turn to Planned Parenthood for care, and would be banned from accessing abortion safely or legally,” Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund said earlier this week in a statement. "In short, Donald Trump’s health care plan would be a disaster for women.”

Trump, of course, sees it differently. "I'm going to be really good for women," he said in his Super Tuesday speech. But will women be good to him?