Former President Trump’s attacks on Nikki Haley risk eroding his already weak support with certain female voters as he barrels toward the GOP nomination.
Trump ratcheted up his attacks on Haley during his victory speech in New Hampshire, where he mocked the dress she wore that evening and referred to her as “birdbrain.” The former president also vocally questioned whether Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who was appointed by Haley in 2013 but endorsed Trump this year, hated Haley.
Political observers say the attacks resemble the former president’s past attacks on women and could turn away critical women voters in the general election — another warning sign for Trump after New Hampshire already underscored his vulnerabilities with certain voters.
“He won’t get women voters who are swing voters,” said Juliana Bergeron, a New Hampshire Republican National Committee member. “I think there might be more women voters that are Republicans that he won’t get either. If it were to be a close election, yes, his comments could sway it.”
Trump and down-ballot Republicans have struggled to win over women voters, particularly suburban college-educated women voters, since 2018. President Biden won 54 percent of suburban women in 2020, according to data from the Pew Research Center. Additionally, suburban women voters were opposed to many Trump-backed candidates in swing states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Arizona during the 2022 midterm elections.
And while Trump won the majority of women voters in New Hampshire on Tuesday, it was by a relatively narrow 51 percent to 47 percent. By comparison, Trump won New Hampshire men 59 percent to 39 percent.
“The cake is baked with regard to voters’ outrage over Trump’s outrageous comments,” said Alice Stewart, a Republican strategist and CNN political commentator. “Suburban women, in particular, are either so disgusted with it, they would never support him or they are to the point to where they say, ‘I’ll support his policies and I’ll put up with the disgusting comments.'”
And Trump’s insults to all of his political rivals are nothing new. Since he launched his first presidential campaign in 2015, Trump has taken to branding his opponents with various nicknames, like “Little Marco,” “Low Energy Jeb,” “Crooked Hillary” and “Sleepy Joe.”
“He uses gender all the time,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University. “He uses it against women, he uses it against men. And the way that he uses it against men is that they’re never manly enough.”
However, many experts acknowledge that Trump’s attacks against his female rivals and critics are more personal and visceral. Following the first Republican presidential debate in 2015, Trump attacked moderator Megyn Kelly for her line of questioning, saying she has “blood coming out of her wherever.” One month later Trump insulted then-presidential rival Carly Fiorina in an interview with Rolling Stone, saying “Look at that face … would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?”
“We see again that while he is never kind to the people who run against him, he is vicious and comes after them in ways that we’re just not used to seeing in American politics,” Walsh said. “But I think women in particular really get under his skin.”
And Haley has gotten deep under Trump’s skin by not dropping out of the presidential race, instead vowing to fight on.
On Thursday, Trump continued to turn up the pressure on Haley to drop out, warning that anyone who continues to contribute to her campaign will be “permanently barred from the MAGA camp.”
The attacks against Haley have some Republicans scratching their heads, pointing out that polls in the next primary state of South Carolina and beyond have Trump leading Haley by double digits.
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“He does this intentionally to insult and irritate someone who he perceives as a threat and that’s why he’s doing this with Nikki Haley,” Stewart said. “Here’s a guy who is beating her by double digits and he’s still petty enough to insult her attire. It just goes to show that at the end of the day, he’s still the Donald Trump that we’ve always known.”
But Trump’s defenders say his attacks on Haley are not what will ultimately decide the presidential contest.
“More women in Iowa and New Hampshire voted for President Trump than for Nikki Haley, and the same will be true in Nikki’s home state of South Carolina,” said Karoline Leavitt, national press secretary for the Trump campaign.
“Women want a leader who tells it like it is and will keep them and their families safe. We don’t want another flip-flopping politician like Nikki Haley who supports open borders, amnesty for illegal aliens and higher taxes,” she continued.
There’s also the theory that Haley staying in the race benefits Biden because it deters Trump from focusing on the president as his only opponent.
“Trump has to end the Haley bid as quickly as possible,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “All Haley is doing by prolonging the inevitable is aiding the Biden campaign. Even Team Biden admits it’s cheering on Haley’s antics.”
Additionally, Republicans point out that Trump has been able to win elections even after facing backlash for comments made about women.
One month before the 2016 presidential elections, the now infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, in which Trump was heard bragging about groping women, was leaked. At the time, the tape was seen as the death knell for the Trump campaign.
“I go back always to 2016, where I remember my husband came into the room after the Access Hollywood and said ‘OK well, you just got your first woman president,’” Walsh said.
Trump instead went on to defeat Hillary Clinton.
But the national conversation surrounding women’s issues has changed drastically since then, with the “Me Too” and Women’s March movements, as well as the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which threw abortion laws back to the states.
Stewart said that Trump’s losses among suburban women can be attributed to a number of factors, including his unfounded claims the 2020 election was stolen, as well as his ongoing legal issues.
In particular, she said, the overturning of Roe has been a liability for him in that regard. “It’s got Donald Trump’s name all over it,” Stewart said.