Trump's women problem

Story highlights

  • Trump's enigmatic relationship with women is under scrutiny
  • A CNN/ORC poll in March found 73% of registered women voters view Trump unfavorably

(CNN)The thing about women, Donald J. Trump once wrote, is that they "have one of the great acts of all time."

"The smart ones act very feminine and needy, but inside they are real killers," he continued. "The person who came up with the expression 'the weaker sex' was either very naïve or had to be kidding. I have seen women manipulate men with just a twitch of their eye -- or perhaps another body part."
The provocative passage, along with several others, is contained in a chapter devoted to women in Trump's 1997 book, "The Art of the Comeback."

    Clinton's 'woman's card'

    Donald Trump: Hillary Clinton won't be good for women
    donald trump nomination gop unrest lead dnt zeleny_00022318


      Donald Trump: Hillary Clinton won't be good for women


    Donald Trump: Hillary Clinton won't be good for women 01:44
    His words on women have newfound relevance in 2016 as Trump's enigmatic relationship with the opposite sex is front and center in his campaign for President.
    As he has assumed the mantle of presumptive Republican nominee, he has opened a new gender-focused line of attack against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
    He has skewered Clinton for playing the "woman's card" and attacked her as an "enabler" for her husband's marital infidelities.
    The comments play on potential vulnerabilities for his likely general election opponent -- but they also highlight Trump's own significant hurdles with female voters as he tries to win their votes in November.
    Trump recently weighed in on Bill Clinton's past infidelities during a campaign appearance, charging that "nobody in this country -- and maybe in the history of this country politically -- was worse than Bill Clinton with women."
    He went on to connect Clinton with her husband's marital indiscretions.
    "He was a disaster," Trump said at a campaign event last Friday, "and she's been the total enabler. She would go after these women and destroy their lives."
    Trump did not present any evidence for his argument, but during a telephone interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo Monday on "New Day," he stood by it.
    In a testy exchange, he told Cuomo he raised the issue as retribution for Clinton "playing the woman's card to the hilt" in the campaign.
    Trump raised that notion last week during his victory speech in New York, suggesting her appeal to female voters, based solely on gender, was her only asset.
    "She's got nothing else going on," he said.
    Clinton brushed off Trump's attacks during a campaign appearance in Stone Ridge, Virginia, on Monday: "I'm going to let him run his campaign however he chooses," she said.

    Trump's crude banter

    The intense scrutiny of the campaign has also renewed interest in Trump's crude banter about his sexual conquests and desires on Howard Stern's radio show.
    Many of those exchanges were published in February by BuzzFeed, and Trump told The Washington Post in a recent interview that he would not have said some of those things if he had known that he would one day run for office.
    His controversial remarks then and during the 2016 campaign have taken a toll on his image among female voters.
    A CNN/ORC poll in March found that 73% of registered women voters viewed Trump unfavorably. The trend line for Trump has gone downward in that regard since December, when 59% of registered women voters had a negative view of him.
    What women voters think of Donald Trump

    The women standing by him

    But for all the women who have voiced their collective disapproval in polling numbers, those closest to the billionaire businessman insist he's a model husband and father -- supportive, nurturing, and empowering.
    Some women who have worked for Trump offer a similar assessment: Despite his controversial public comments, he is a giving and inspirational boss, they say, and treats female employees no differently than their male counterparts.
    Still, it is difficult to paint a full portrait of Trump's dealings with women, because many who have worked with him over the years have no interest in talking publicly about a candidate who has shown no hesitation in striking back at his critics.
    A number of Trump's former female colleagues contacted by CNN did not return calls. Some refused to talk on the record. One prominent former Trump colleague hung up abruptly on a reporter, explaining that she had no interest in being hounded by the press.
    Hence, the lingering question: What's the deal with Donald Trump and women?

    Advocating a supporting role at home

    The perception that Trump has a problem with females stems, in part, from high-profile clashes over the years in which he's called them names and ridiculed their appearance.
    Ivanka: I've told dad to withhold his fire at times
    donald trump family town hall presidential Melania Ivanka ac cooper 3_00003420


      Ivanka: I've told dad to withhold his fire at times


    Ivanka: I've told dad to withhold his fire at times 01:43
    Among his targets: Leona Helmsley, Rosie O'Donnell, Carly Fiorina, Heidi Cruz and Megyn Kelly.
    After a debate last summer in which Trump felt he was mistreated by Kelly, who was moderating, Trump launched what seemed to be a gender-specific assault on the Fox News anchor when he said she had "blood coming out of her wherever." (He later insisted that he meant her nose).
    Trump has said he loves women, finds them beautiful, and is not a sexist.
    In "The Art of the Comeback," Trump wrote that wives should play supporting roles to their husbands, and every marriage should come with a prenuptial agreement in case it doesn't work out.
    Donald Trump in his own words
    Twice divorced by the time the book was published, Trump's views on women were shaped by what he saw as the aggressive behavior of females around him.
    He wrote of a married socialite who propositioned him on a ballroom dance floor as her husband looked on and about a bride-to-be "jumping on top of me wanting to get screwed" in his limousine a week before she was due to be married.
    "The level of aggression was unbelievable," he wrote of the dance floor incident. "This is not infrequent, it happens all the time."
    "Their sex drive makes us look like babies," he wrote of women at another point in the same book.

    Living up to his mother

    Melania Trump: 'I don't try to change him'
    Melania Trump: 'I don't try to change him'


      Melania Trump: 'I don't try to change him'


    Melania Trump: 'I don't try to change him' 01:50
    Trump opened the chapter on women by writing that part of "the problem" he has with them is "having to compare them to my incredible mother, Mary Trump."
    He recalled his mom as "smart as hell" and as "a really great homemaker and wife to my father."
    He came to see his mother's supporting role as a model not just for his own situation, but for any man who wants to succeed.
    "For a man to be successful he needs support at home, just like my father had from my mother, not someone who is always griping and bitching," he wrote. "When a man has to endure a woman who is not supportive and complains constantly about his not being home enough or not being attentive enough, he will not be very successful unless he is able to cut the cord."
    The passage did not explore the possibility of a woman as the family's primary wage-earner.
    Trump wrote that his "big mistake" with his first wife, Ivana, was "taking her out of the role of wife and allowing her to run one of my casinos in Atlantic City, then the Plaza hotel."
    She did an excellent job at both, he wrote, but once she took on those roles "work was all she wanted to talk about."
    "I will never again give a wife responsibility within my business," Trump wrote. "Ivana worked very hard, and I appreciate the effort, but I soon began to realize that I was married to a business person rather than a wife."

    'He encourages everybody'

    On the campaign trail in 2016, Trump has said his wife, Melania, would make a great first lady.
    2005: Donald and Melania Trump as newlyweds
    donald trump melania trump 2005 entire larry king live intv_00031417


      2005: Donald and Melania Trump as newlyweds


    2005: Donald and Melania Trump as newlyweds 16:02
    Melania Trump, a former model who has designed her own jewelry line for QVC, has emerged as an important advocate for her husband, driving the argument that he treats everyone equally.
    She has spoken about the importance of her career, but described herself in an interview with Parenting Magazine as a "full-time mom" to her son Barron. "That is my first job."
    Melania has tried to explain the paradox of Trump and women by saying that when her husband is attacked, "He will attack back, no matter who you are."
    "He encourages everybody, if you're a man or a woman," she said during an April 12 Trump family CNN town hall.
    His daughter Ivanka, a successful businesswoman in her own right, said during the CNN town hall that he taught her that there "wasn't anything that I couldn't do if I set my mind to it." She also praised him for hiring "incredible female role models" in "the highest executive positions at the Trump organization."

    Spiralling approvals

    Dan Quayle: GOP needs to unite around Trump
    Dan Quayle: GOP needs to unite around Trump


      Dan Quayle: GOP needs to unite around Trump


    Dan Quayle: GOP needs to unite around Trump 02:52
    But Trump has repeatedly stumbled into controversy with his asides about women over the past year, and his approval numbers among women have spiraled downward.
    The Republican Party was already facing a deficit among women voters. In 2012, Barack Obama led Mitt Romney among female voters by about 11 points -- with a particularly steep deficit among single women. (Romney beat Obama by 7 points among married women, who have generally viewed the GOP more favorably).
    In a March Quinnipiac University poll, 60% of women said they would not vote for Trump in a general election -- a reflection of his poor approval ratings among women in a wide variety of national polls.
    His campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, predicted Trump's image among women would improve as the campaign progressed. His aides have pointed out that he trounced his rivals among Republican women in recent GOP primaries, including Pennsylvania, Maryland and Connecticut (though that is hardly a good measure of how he would fare in a general election).
    Female Trump supporter: He 'has respect for women'
    Female Trump supporter: He 'has respect for women'


      Female Trump supporter: He 'has respect for women'


    Female Trump supporter: He 'has respect for women' 03:05
    "Donald Trump's numbers are going to be strong with women because they want the same thing that everybody else wants," Lewandowski said in a telephone interview.
    "They don't vote based on gender. They vote on competency -- and that competency includes making sure that the nation is secure, which Donald Trump has pledged he will do, making sure we don't have illegal immigrants pouring across the border, and making sure individuals have opportunities for jobs.
    "Those are the things that cut across socio-economic status, they cut across gender, they cut across race."
    Beyond focusing on those broad themes, however, Trump has done little to try to shore up his weaknesses among women voters.

    Trump on the attack

    His various stumbles haven't helped. He angered both abortion-rights supporters and opponents, for example, when he said during an MSNBC town hall that women who have abortions should be punished if the procedure is outlawed—and then quickly reversed himself.
    His personal critiques of women's looks on the campaign trail have been pointed.
    Early in the presidential race, he made fun of Carly Fiorina's face.

    That exchange seemed tame compared to his taunts of Heidi Cruz.
    Donald Trump: Heidi Cruz retweet was a mistake
    Donald Trump: Heidi Cruz retweet was a mistake


      Donald Trump: Heidi Cruz retweet was a mistake


    Donald Trump: Heidi Cruz retweet was a mistake 01:24
    When an anti-Trump super PAC cut an ad that used a revealing photo of Melania from her days as a super model, Trump blamed Cruz. "Be Careful, Lyin' Ted, or I will spill the beans on your wife," he tweeted.
    He offended some female voters when he re-tweeted an unflattering picture of Heidi Cruz, a Goldman Sachs executive, next to Melania. "A picture is worth a thousand words," the caption said.
    Angered by the tweets, Cruz warned his then-adversary to "leave Heidi the hell alone," and told reporters: "Strong women scare Donald."
    Trump insisted the press stirred up the controversy. "The media is so after me on women," the real estate magnate tweeted on March 26. "Wow, this is a tough business. Nobody has more respect for women than Donald Trump."
    But female voters seem increasingly skeptical as Trump prepares to take on Hillary Clinton, who is running to be the first female president.

    Nurturing talent in the workplace

    Some women who have worked for Trump say they find it difficult to reconcile some of his statements and written opinions with the way he treated them.
    Mr. Trump goes to Washington
    Mr. Trump goes to Washington


      Mr. Trump goes to Washington


    Mr. Trump goes to Washington 01:39
    Jill Cremer worked as a vice president overseeing real estate development at the Trump Organization for a decade beginning in 1998.
    She said it was a hard decision to leave, and she only learned after working elsewhere just how good she'd had it.
    "He was a fantastic employer," said Cremer, still a real-estate executive in Manhattan. "I don't have one bad thing to say about him."
    She said Trump ran the office as a meritocracy and was refreshingly unconcerned about educational pedigrees.
    Though she went to work for Trump at the relatively young age of 30, she said he put her on projects that challenged her and forced her to grow.
    "He'd say, `I believe in you. I'm gonna give you this -- now go run with it," Cremer recalled.
    "And I did it," she said.
    Cremer said Trump has made some cringe-worthy public comments involving women over the years, but she said he never talked that way to her or in her presence.
    "I don't know how to explain it," she said. "But, when you're on the inside, it's different."
    Lili Amini, who manages Trump's golf club in Palos Verdes, offered a similar description of her billionaire boss.
    Amini, who was identified by a Trump campaign aide as a female employee who could talk about his management style, said she met Trump in 2005 when she accompanied her father to work at the sprawling resort overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Her parents owned a flower business and maintained the plants and flowers at the Trump facility.
    She was 27 at the time and studying to be a buyer in the fashion world.
    She said Trump walked up and asked her father: "Who's this?"
    He introduced his daughter and the two struck up a conversation. By the end of it, Amini recalled, Trump told her: "I want you to work here."
    She said she didn't know anything about running a food and beverage operation at the time, and didn't even know what job she was being offered. But after discussing the offer with her parents she decided it was too good to pass up.
    She started out as the small events coordinator and, with Trump's mentoring and support, has worked her way to general manager.
    She said Trump would periodically show up at the resort and each time he did would encourage her to learn everything she could about some new aspect of the business.
    He was always encouraging, she said, and always professional. He taught her, she said, to never doubt herself. "He's been a great motivator," she said. "Impossible is never a word that I use in my vocabulary."
    Amini said Trump never made her feel like she got the job because she was a woman or that she was being second-guessed based on her gender after she rose through the ranks.
    "It's just about the work," she said. "It's always about the work."

    Mixed reviews

    Trump received more mixed reviews from Barbara Res, who worked for Trump from 1978 to 1996 and helped oversee the construction of Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue.
    Res said she had good working relationship with Trump and that it was an unusual move for him to hire her in 1978, because there were so few women working in the construction industry.
    But Res, who wrote about her experiences in her book, All Alone on the 68th Floor: How One Woman Changed the Face of Construction, said Trump became less approachable and accessible over time.
    In an essay for the New York Daily News, Res wrote that Trump was "nasty to the people who work for him," that he could "be very abusive and curt" and had an "incredible temper ... he lashes out at everyone."
    "Of all the people I know who worked for or with Trump, including contractors, lawyers, architects, employees, only a very few actually like him," Res wrote in the New York Daily News. "Some respect him, some don't. Many hate his guts."
    But she said he had a good eye for talent, and had several strong women working for him in her heyday. He told her she was "a killer" and that wanting to be liked by her subordinates was a weakness.
    "Later, he would hire and promote many people with questionable qualifications," Res wrote in her New York Daily News essay. "I could see, over time, his growing need to be coddled and agreed with," she wrote, adding that by the 1980s, he "had taken to decorating his office with beautiful women."
    "He changed," Res said in a telephone interview. "I think it was fame and fortune, absolutely."
    In his book, Trump wrote: "I don't know why, but I seem to bring out either the best or worst in women."
    He reiterated that "they're really a lot different than portrayed," and "far worse than men, far more aggressive."
    He praised their intelligence and said they should be saluted for their "tremendous power, which most men are afraid to admit they have."