Trump and the GOP are playing ‘the man card’ headed into the midterm election
In the most heated days leading up to the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, President Trump and his supporters responded to the allegations against Kavanaugh by saying that men and boys are in danger in a world where accusers get the benefit of the doubt, implicating the entire #MeToo movement.
“Think of your husbands. Think of your sons,” Trump told supporters at a rally in Mississippi this month, saying that men would be fired from their jobs for being unfairly accused of sexual harassment.
Concerns like this and others related to it are a big reason Trump was the more popular candidate with men in the 2016 presidential election. Although Democrat Hillary Clinton received the most votes, exit polls showed that most men backed the Republican candidate. His message resonated closely with those who were uncomfortable with what gender norms could look like in the United States under Clinton, the first woman to win a major-party presidential nomination.
In 2016, a PRRI/The Atlantic poll found that more than 40 percent of likely Trump voters thought that society “punishes men for just acting like men.” And two-thirds of Trump supporters agreed that society had become “too soft and feminine.”
Trump resurfaced some of these concerns after Kavanaugh’s nomination was threatened by allegations of sexual assault and misconduct. Trump spoke repeatedly about how men are at risk of having their lives destroyed by such accusations by feminists and liberal activists.
“I say that it’s a very scary time for young men in America, when you can be guilty of something that you may not be guilty of. This is a very difficult time,” Trump told reporters.
The message seems to have resonated with some constituencies key to the GOP’s electoral success. Everyone from conservative activists and Republican lawmakers to worried parents expressed concern for the future of their husbands, fathers and sons during the #MeToo movement. Perhaps it was this continued defense of men, support for Kavanaugh and criticism of the activists (most of them women) challenging the judge’s nomination, that led to a spike in Trump’s approval among men.
According to the latest CNN poll, most men (51 percent) approve of the job the president is doing — that’s nine points higher than Trump’s approval among men in the same poll taken in early September. But his overall approval rating is lower — 41 percent.
The overwhelming majority (74 percent) of men surveyed who approved of Trump’s presidency said they did so more because of the positions Trump takes on issues than because of his personality and leadership qualities. Although Trump’s positions include views about the economy, foreign affairs and race relations, they also include his stances on gender issues, the #MeToo movement and other cultural issues. Trump was criticized for mocking Christine Blasey Ford, a research psychologist who accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers, but polling shows that most Republicans, particularly men, supported his position that Kavanaugh, and perhaps other men, are to be defended.
This bump in support for Trump and his positions has given Republicans some encouragement heading up to the midterm election. Republicans think the right has been energized following the Kavanaugh nomination out of a desire to protect the presumption of innocence, which many don’t think Kavanaugh was afforded, and out of disdain for Democrats’ and the left’s approach to stopping his nomination.
But while most men — 52 percent — said they would vote for the GOP’s candidates if the elections were held today, according to the CNN poll, history would perhaps advise against adopting a midterm strategy that relies heavily on male voter turnout. That’s because men historically do not vote at the same rate as women.
According to the Rutgers University Center for American Women and Politics, women outnumbered men among those registered to vote during each midterm election year since 1980. And during the most recent midterm election, in 2014, women outnumbered men on voting by more than 10 million.
The Fix’s Amber Phillips explained this week how the approach could play out differently in the battles for the Senate and the House majorities. It’s true that playing to fears for men affected by allegations may work for winning men, as well as women who are concerned about overreach by the left. It also runs a high risk of turning off voters who are mindful of the #MeToo movement, gender inequality and the other issues that raise questions about the idea that men are seriously victimized in society.