President Trump shakes hands with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) during a bill-signing ceremony in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington on Oct. 10. (Zach Gibson/Bloomberg News)

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The 53 percent has come in for heavy criticism on social media again.

The number refers to the percentage of white women who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 — a fact that stunned many progressives, who were incredulous that so many female voters would side with a man with a history of sexist rhetoric and behavior toward women, especially over a woman who had come so close to making history by shattering the highest glass ceiling in American politics.


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The contentious fight to confirm Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court has resurrected resentment against the 53 percent, especially after Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), whose profile as a moderate Republican had won her some fans on the blue side of the divide, voted to confirm Kavanaugh amid allegations that he had sexually assaulted a girl when they were in high school.

The 53 percent had once again sold out their sisters in the service of the patriarchy, an especially egregious sin in the wake of the #MeToo movement, which has exposed widespread sexual harassment and assault among powerful men in the workplace. The anger also flared up last December, when prominent Republican lawmakers, activists and pundits refused to emphatically condemn Roy Moore, the GOP candidate for Senate in a special election in Alabama. Moore narrowly lost to Democrat Doug Jones, thanks to some white women sitting out the contest and a huge turnout among African American women.

But it’s worth remembering that many of the women who support sexually misbehaving men are more loyal to their party or conservative ideology than they are to their gender. They are more apt to believe that forces on the left, including “radical” feminists, are trying to bring down men who will stand up for the issues that are important to them, such as tax cuts or outlawing abortions.

Poll after poll has indicated that Trump supporters care more about advancing a conservative agenda than they do about his personal behavior, shrugging off his vulgar comments about grabbing women’s genitals that surfaced during his campaign, as well as allegations that he paid off an adult-film star to keep quiet about a sexual affair in 2006.

But Melissa Deckman, a political-science professor at Washington College, said some women, including moderates and Democrats, “felt betrayed” by Collins, whom they saw as a “voice of reason” in a party whose messaging about women often sounds unreasonable.

“In the past, she has consistently been pro-choice and willing to defy Trump on policy that the left holds dear, like refusing to overturn the Affordable Care Act,” Deckman said, adding that Collins also voted for equal pay legislation for women. “In the past, she’s been a voice for saying, ‘We need to consider women’s voices more in a party that doesn’t do that very often.' ”

This time, though, many women thought that Collins “minimized the voice of Christine Blasey Ford” in a speech that also was more partisan than usual. “People tend to forget that these are politicians.”

Christine Matthews, president of Bellwether Research and a pollster who has done consulting on messaging to women, said that the increasingly polarized political climate affects women as well as men. But she noted that Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) did not vote to confirm Kavanaugh.

And she disagrees with those who say Collins wasn’t supportive of Ford or the issue of sexual assault. She said that for women, it’s “much better to have Susan Collins in there” than an indifferent male senator.

It should be noted that African American, Hispanic and Asian American women are largely spectators in this debate. They overwhelmingly voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. Polling in the run-up to the presidential election showed that black women, compared with other groups, were most fearful of a Trump presidency. Over the past two years, black women have frequently reminded white women of the latter group’s role in helping to elect Trump.

Trump spoke to those women in comments during a rally where he mocked Ford’s testimony about the alleged assault and said women should “think about your sons.”

Deckman and Matthews say, however, that it is likely to be young women — daughters — who prove to be the GOP’s undoing.

“I think the long-term implications are really not good for the GOP. They cannot continue to be party of white men and expect that in 10 years to 20 years that kind of behavior is going to be rewarded,” Deckman said. She said the country is not only becoming more diverse, but younger Americans’ “views are more liberal. They care about sexual harassment and issues like LBGT rights. In 10 years, they will be more settled and voting more regularly, and they’re not going to stand for this.”

Matthews agrees, noting that the reckoning could start with the upcoming midterms. As she noted in a recent tweet:

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The ‘decolonization’ of the American museum

‘Think of your sons’: What parents can do about sexual assault in the #MeToo era

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