The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Power Up: President Trump tries to win back 'suburban housewives' polls show he has alienated

Placeholder while article actions load

Greetings Power Peeps. Great news: it's national dog day!!!! Dogs, we don't deserve you. Send us all the cute pictures, please. See you tomorrow. 

The campaign

By Jacqueline Alemany and Brent D. Griffiths

‘SUBURBAN HOUSEWIVES’: Rep. Elise Stefanik is on a mission to elect more female Republicans after the 2018 midterms showcased a daunting gender gap for her party: 35 Democratic women came to Washington compared to just one Republican female House member. She formed a leadership PAC to “elevate women early on” and retain and attract more female voters to the GOP in the Trump era. 

Two years later, the congresswoman from New York, who President Trump has called a “new Republican star,” will speak tonight at the GOP convention and defend  the president's “record of delivering results for the American people during this challenging time versus Joe Biden’s 47-year failed record of far-left policies.

Stefanik is just one of the high-profile female speakers at the Republican gathering First lady Melania Trump, Tiffany Trump and Iowa's first female governor, Kim Reynolds, all addressed the nation last night. They hope to bring female voters — including white suburban women and those without college degrees that GOP strategists and lawmakers warn the party is hemorrhaging — back into the fold.

  • Key quote: “The suburban women I’ve met with, they want a message of hope and compassion, Sarah Chamberlain, president of Republican Main Street Partnership, a group that backs GOP moderates, told Power Up. “They like Trump’s policies but join the first lady in wishing he wouldn’t tweet as much.”
  • “They are Republicans,” Chamberlain added of suburban, center-right women who are considering supporting Biden. “The Democrats have not captured them. It’s not a done deal.” 

But persuading the center-right “Suburban Housewives of America” it's okay to vote for Trump is an uphill slog at this point.

  • A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found Trump trailing Biden by 16 points among registered women voters. Broken down, Biden crushed the president among urban women (69 to 27 percent), but held a much narrower advantage among suburban women (54 to 41 percent). Exit polls show Hillary Clinton carried women by 13 points in 2016.
  • “Trump’s flailing response to the coronavirus pandemic and his move to inflame nationwide racial tensions are exacerbating an already precarious situation, according to interviews with female Republican lawmakers and GOP pollsters focused on female voters,” our colleagues Rachael Bade, Seung Min Kim and Scott Clement reported earlier this month. 
  • “A unifying message similar to that of [ex-South Carolina Gov.] Nikki Haley and [Sen.] Tim Scott’s really resonates, Olivia Perez-Cubas, the spokesperson for Winning for Women, said of what suburban women fleeing the GOP want to hear. 
Speeches from surrogates on the second night of the Republican National Convention included lots of praise, and some misinformation, about Trump's presidency. (Video: The Washington Post)

The convention last night spotlighted women both regular people and elected officials, along with the first lady with mixed results.

Melania Trump led the charge in making the case for her husband by delivering her address from the White House's newly renovated Rose Garden before a maskless live audience. Several administration officials and Cabinet secretaries attended — one of a series of events that raises legal questions and might have violated federal law prohibiting executive branch and federal employees from participating in political activity in their official capacity. 

The first lady cast herself as a bridge to female voters disenchanted with the president and as an admirable example of legal immigration to the United States,” according to Anne Gearan, Colby Itkowitz, Felicia Sonmez and John Wagner. “Her address also opened with an emotional tribute to Americans lost to the coronavirus pandemic, part of an apparent effort by her husband's campaign to shore up support amid widespread public unhappiness over his handling of the crisis.”

  • Donald will not rest until he has done all he can to take care of everyone impacted by this pandemic, she said on a day where 1,152 deaths due to the coronavirus were reported. Overall, 175,000 Americans have died from the virus, according to our Post tracker. 
  • While highlighting her immigration story, Melania Trump skipped over the fact “her husband's policies as president have targeted legal and illegal immigration in ways that would have limited, if not prevented, his wife's immigrant experience,” Anne, Colby, Felicia, and John point out. 
  • Melania also implored mothers to teach their children how to behave responsibly on social media: “How to talk to your children about downsides of technology and their relationships with their peers?” Melania Trump asked. “Like every parent in this country, I feel there are so many lessons to teach our son … but there are just not enough hours in the day to do it all.”
  • She made no mention of her husband's use of “his Twitter following to bully opponents real and perceived, often with falsehoods and innuendo,” Phil Rucker pointed out. 
  • FLOTUS has thus far been a reluctant presence in her husband's campaign:In the final few months before the election, campaign officials have been urging the first lady to be more active, and some are frustrated that she has not been more involved in the reelection effort,” Jada Yuan, Mary Jordan, and Josh Dawsey report. “One White House official said Trump is likely to campaign occasionally this fall but said a schedule had not been set.” 

But there was controversy surrounding the other women who spoke last night, or were set to.

  • Abby Johnson, an antiabortion activist who delivered remarks from the Mellon Auditorium in D.C., “has advocated in recent months for a head-of-household voting system that has historically barred women and people of color from casting ballots, reports The 19th*'s Amanda Becker. 
  • She also said “in a recent video that it would be ‘smart’ for a police officer to racially profile her biracial son, because ‘statistically, my brown son is more likely to commit a violent offense over my white sons,’” Vice News's Carter Sherman reports. 
  • “So the fact that in his head, he would be more careful around my brown son than my white son, that doesn’t actually make me angry. That makes that police officer smart, because of statistics,” Johnson said in a YouTube video earlier this summer after the police killing of George Floyd.
  • Another speaker, Mary Ann Mendoza, was removed from the lineup after she “took to Twitter and urged her followers to investigate a supposed Jewish plot to enslave the world” before her slated RNC appearance,” the Daily Beast's Will Sommer reports. 
  • Mendoza, an ‘angel mom'linked to a lengthy thread from a QAnon conspiracy theorist that laid out a fevered, anti-Semitic view of the world.” 

The aim of the night was clear: portraying Trump in a more favorable light to women. One portion of programming highlighted the women Trump has employed in the White House and on his campaign team. In a slickly produced package that featured exaggerated claims, his female aides were filmed singing their boss's praises. 

  • President Trump continues to place strong women into significant positions throughout his administration and campaign, far more than any other president in U.S. history,” a narrator said over a montage of women currently serving or have served Trump.  
  • Fact check:Kellyanne Conway, Mr. Trump’s third campaign manager for his 2016 bid, was the first woman to run a winning presidential campaign, and three of his White House press secretaries have been women. But the number of high-ranking women in his administration is not record-breaking,” the New York Times's Linda Qui writes. 

Former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi and first daughter Tiffany Trump were among the other women who appeared on the virtual stage. Bondi decried the evils of nepotism and attacked Hunter Biden — just moments before Trump's daughter took the stage to rail against the media, tech companies and college campuses. 

  • “The speech did not offer behind-the-scenes details about her father or include any anecdotes meant to humanize a politician who has a negative image among many women, particularly suburban women he needs to win in November. That made her speech different than her remarks in 2016, where she essentially served as a character witness for her father,” our colleague Josh Dawsey noted. 

Down-ballot progress: Unlike 2018, 2020 presents a “major uptick in the number of Republican as well as Democratic female candidates,” Vox's Li Zhou reported in May. And in November, a record number of women could be elected to the House.

  • According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, 288 women have won House primaries this year 199 Democrats and 89 Republicans.
  • “Altogether, 227 GOP women have filed to run, versus the 120 who did in the midterms, a party record, according to Zhou. 
  • There are a couple of reasons for this uptick, according to experts.,” per Zhou. “Among them: The infrastructure for recruiting Republican women has improved significantly, and the wave of Democratic women who won in 2018 was a key motivating factor.”

Chamberlain told Power Up her internal surveys show Democrats performing better with women voters on the hot-button topics of covid-19 and health care. “It's a tough environment,” Chamberlain said of what her candidates in suburban districts are up against this cycle. “But what I'm trying to do is separate my candidates from Trump,” she added. 

  • “Some of them are aligned with the president, and some of them are not,” Patti Russo, the executive director of the Women's Campaign School at Yale University, told NBC News's Sarah Fitzpatrick, Kristen Welker and Kenzi Abou-Sabe. “There are women from various states who feel very strongly about this administration, that they are headed in the right direction. The other group is the complete opposite: ‘I want my party back, and this administration does not represent my principles.’ ‘I’m a pro-choice Republican, and there’s no room for me.’”
  • The pandemic has also created a spate of new political candidates – many of them unemployed women – like Kelly Johnson: “The 48-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., had been furloughed from her job as a restaurant manager and after many frustrating weeks waiting for unemployment benefits, she decided to run for a Florida House of Representatives seat, with no political experience, to fix the broken unemployment system she had just experienced firsthand,” Eli Rosenberg reports. 
  • Previously a Republican, Johnson "started to watch Trump every day, finding herself surprised by his indifference to the pandemic early on,” writes Rosenberg. 

Former state representative Yvette Herrell, 56, is one of the GOP women running who is embracing the president. Herrell lost to Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (D-N.M.) by fewer than 4,000 votes during the midterms in a district Trump carried by 10 points in 2016. She's betting her rematch will be boosted by having the president at the top of ticket along with some frustration with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's (D) management of the pandemic. In an interview with Power Up, Herrell argued Trump's policies have benefited women of all backgrounds in her district. 

  • “I think right now everyone, not just women, is starting to pay attention and understand the importance of the decisions this administration has certainly made and will continue to do when President Trump is elected to four more years,” Herrell said, ticking off antiabortion policies, tax cuts, and the attempted repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
  • Herrell stressed no one could have foreseen the pandemic while broadly praising the administration's response. She blamed the media for confusion about masks and other efforts to try to reduce the virus, waiving off a reminder the president took months to publicly endorse mask-wearing.

At the White House

THE CAMPAIGNER IN CHIEF: “[Trump] and the Republican Party placed the powers of the federal government in service to Trump’s reelection — staging pardoning and naturalization ceremonies as part of the GOP’s official nominating convention and using the White House Rose Garden for a speech by the first lady …,” Anne Gearan, Colby Itkowitz, Felicia Sonmez and John Wagner report.

  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's speech already has prompted a House investigation: “The State Department said Pompeo’s decision to speak at the RNC was made in his personal capacity and did not involve government resources. But it left many diplomats dumbstruck,” Carol Morello reports.
President Trump repeatedly flouted norms and raised legal questions on Aug. 25 as official duties were performed during a political convention. (Video: The Washington Post)

The scenes at the White House raised questions about whether federal laws were violated: “Kathleen Clark, a legal and government ethics professor at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, said that the event appeared to be designed as part of the convention, an action that would violate a criminal provision of the Hatch Act, which bars executive branch employees from participating in politics in their official capacity,” Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Josh Dawsey report.

  • Clark was describing the pretaped naturalization ceremony for five new citizens: Two Marines opened the door for the president as “Hail to the Chief” played. Trump then joined acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf who administered the oath to the immigrants.

Former federal ethics chief Walter Shaub, who clashed repeatedly with the White House:

More on the Hatch Act:

The people

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM: What else happened on night two.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron (R) became a national star: The first African American to hold the post, Cameron infused his life story into his speech and scorchingly denounced Biden. A protege of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Cameron is seen as a rising star in the GOP.

  •  “Mr. Vice President look at me, I am Black. We are not all the same, sir. I am not in chains. My mind is my own. And you can’t tell me how to vote because of the color of my skin,” Cameron said, referencing years of Biden's comments about Black Americans. 

Cameron briefly mentioned Breonna Taylor's case: As attorney general in the state where Taylor was killed, he is under immense pressure to charge the Louisville officers responsible for her death. Cameron has met with Taylor's family, but has previously stressed the investigation is ongoing.

Bondi tore into the Biden: Bondi, who was also a member of Trump's impeachment defense team. Trump himself “shamelessly spun a web of allegations based on flimsy evidence, repeated at the Republican National Convention by Bondi,” our fact checking colleague Glenn Kessler writes.

  • But the brunt of the AG's claim was also undermined by the person who spoke after her:

Rock lobster: The Democratic National Convention gave us calamari man. Now, Republicans have responded with Maine lobster.

  • Okay, that wasn't the exact point of Maine lobsterman Jason Joyce's appearance. Joyce spoke about Trump's trade policies and what they've meant for his industry. 
  • We should point out the lobster industry was doing poorly mainly because of the president: This whole Trump/lobster thing is wild — what he did was belatedly provide them with emergency relief from the consequences of his own trade policies,” Vox's Matthew Yglesias tweeted of the lobster bailout

Outside the Beltway

MULTIPLE PEOPLE SHOT IN WISCONSIN DURING PROTEST: “Gunfire rang out from a crowd of protesters early Wednesday morning in Kenosha, Wis., on the third night of unrest over the police shooting of Jacob Blake Jr. At least three people were injured. It is unclear who fired the shots, and police and hospital officials have not yet confirmed the severity of the injuries,” Mark Guarino and Jaclyn Peiser report.

  • What we know: “Shots were first fired after midnight, as a group of protesters … faced off with police in armored trucks, our colleagues write. “Video shows the armed man fall to the ground, and then fire multiple rounds into the crowd. Two more people fell to the ground, one shot in the arm. Another graphic video shows one man with blood running down the back of his neck and bystanders shouting that he’d been shot in the head.”
Family members of Jacob Blake, the Wisconsin man who was shot at least seven times by police, reflected on the incident during a news conference on Aug. 25. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Joshua Lott/The Washington Post)

Earlier, Blake's family called for the officer's arrest and peace: “Attorneys for Blake’s family said he has been paralyzed by the shooting and has suffered other serious injuries …," Mark Guarino, Mark Berman, Jaclyn Peiser and Griff Witte report.

Their pleas: Julia Jackson, Blake’s mother, asked for Americans to show “how humans are supposed to treat each other.

  • “They shot my son seven times,” said Jacob Blake Sr., his father, at the news briefing. “Seven times. Like he didn’t matter. But my son matters. He’s a human being, and he matters.”

In the media


Universities sound the alarm as coronavirus cases surge on campuses: “More than 500 cases at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Nearly 160 at the University of Missouri in Columbia. Dozens at the University of Southern California. Colleges and universities that brought students back to campus are expressing alarm about coronavirus infections emerging as classes have barely started, raising the possibility everyone could be sent home,” Hannah Knowles reports.

As Syracuse University prepared to reopen at the end of August, students shared their experiences and concerns about returning to school. (Video: The Washington Post)

Falwell resigns, but he's in store for quite a payday: “Jerry Falwell Jr. has resigned as president of Liberty University after a series of personal scandals, ending back-to-back Falwell leadership eras at an evangelical institution that is a major power center for conservative Christians and politicians,” Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Susan Svrluga and Michelle Boorstein report.

  • His contract entitles him to $10.5 million severance package, he told our colleagues: “In part because he is departing from the university without being formally accused of or admitting to wrongdoing,” they write.

A government office in charge of etiquette is plagued by etiquette problems, watchdog finds: “When the United States hosts foreign leaders and dignitaries, a little-known office at the State Department is in charge of sweating every detail, from choreographing presidential greetings to arranging seating charts to managing dietary restrictions. But inside that office, U.S. employees have complained about internal breaches in etiquette and protocol under the leadership of the Trump administration’s political appointees running day-to-day affairs,” John Hudson reports.