LIBERTY, Mo. — When women living in the Kansas City suburbs discuss President Trump’s comments on issues such as domestic violence and sexual abuse, they keep using the same word: frustrating.
A 65-year-old Republican grandmother who hesitantly voted for Trump said she understands the president’s impulse to protect a loyal staffer accused of abusing two ex-wives, but she’s frustrated it took him so many days to publicly condemn domestic violence.
A 47-year-old bookkeeper who had never voted for a Republican until she voted for Trump is frustrated that he doesn’t think before he tweets or speaks — and she worries that she’s setting the wrong example for her children by supporting a president accused of groping women without their consent.
And a 29-year-old recruiter who considers herself a Republican-leaning independent said she respects that voters selected Trump and has tried to give him credit at every opportunity, but she’s frustrated by his male-centric approach to nearly everything.
“It’s frustrating knowing that the person that’s leading our country doesn’t necessarily prioritize or have respect for women the way that I think that the president should,” said Audrey Smithe, the recruiter, as she worked at the Hammerhand Coffee shop in this suburban city’s historical downtown on a recent afternoon.
Although Missouri has become a reliably red state, Democrats are hopeful that the frustration felt by many women here — especially moderates living in the suburbs of Kansas City and St. Louis — will influence the way they vote in the midterm elections this fall, especially with Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) facing a tough reelection contest in a state that Trump won by more than 18 percentage points.
Trump isn’t the only Republican man frustrating Missouri women. Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) has admitted to an extramarital affair, and a St. Louis prosecutor is investigating allegations that Greitens threatened the woman not to tell anyone about their relationship or he would distribute a nude photo of her.
Attorney General Josh Hawley, a Senate candidate who is considered the front-runner in the GOP primary in August, recently blamed the problem of sex trafficking on the sexual revolution of the 1960s and ’70s. His spokeswoman says his point was the need to “change the culture of male exploitation of women.” Courtland Sykes, another Republican Senate candidate and a former congressional aide, has called feminists “she-devils” and accused them of changing gender norms “to suit their own nasty, snake-filled heads” — while saying that he expects his fiancee to have dinner on the table when he gets home at 6 p.m. each day.
In recent interviews with more than three dozen women in Missouri’s Clay County — a conservative area where Trump won with 52 percent of the vote in 2016 but McCaskill won in 2012 with 55 percent of the vote — few women said they were closely following the upcoming Senate race, although most said they plan to get up to speed and will probably vote. Several admitted they are still politically exhausted from the 2016 presidential election and don’t have the energy or stomach to follow the news closely, adding that controversies involving the president often seem to blur together.
One of the latest: the resignation of Rob Porter, Trump’s staff secretary, amid accusations that he physically, verbally and emotionally abused his two former wives. White House officials have offered differing accounts of when they learned about the allegations, which the women brought to the attention of the FBI during interviews for Porter’s security clearance more than a year ago. Trump responded to the resignation by lavishing praise on Porter after he resigned Feb. 7 and then tweeted a few days later that “Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused — life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?”
Trump didn’t make any mention of domestic violence until Feb. 14, four days after his tweet and a week after Porter’s resignation.
“I’m totally opposed to domestic violence of any kind,” he told reporters. “Everyone knows that, and it almost wouldn’t even have to be said.”
Janel Sanford, a stay-at-home mother of five, said there are three sides to these sorts of allegations, all of which need to be acknowledged: those of the two people involved and then the truth.
“I always say that’s God’s side, because he’s always there,” said Sanford, 40, after story time at the Liberty library one morning last week. “I do think that, sadly to say, there can be false accusations that can ruin someone’s life, but then you have to look at the fact that if it is true, there’s already one life that has been affected by that and possibly ruined.”
Sanford said that she’s “more on the conservative side” and that her faith guides many of political stances, but she didn’t want to publicly disclose which presidential candidate got her vote.
Another stay-at-home mom at the library that morning pointed out that the domestic violence allegations against Porter were not “mere.”
“There was some proof of what had been going on — one woman had police documentation; one woman had photos,” said Jenn, a 47-year-old mother of two who didn’t want her full name published given how divisive politics have become. “If two different women brought up charges against this man, then maybe I wouldn’t have gone on my tweets and said that these are mere allegations. . . . He tweets way too much. He really should calm himself down with that nonsense.”
Jenn registered as a Republican when she was 18 but has voted for Democrats and Republicans over the years — and no longer considers herself a Republican, identifying more as an independent. She couldn’t bring herself to vote for Hillary Clinton or Trump, she said, especially after hearing his comments about women that were caught on a hot mic during the taping of a 2005 “Access Hollywood” interview.
“It’s a hard time we live in,” she said. “And in raising a [22-year-old] daughter, I just want to be a good example.”
Gena Brosch, who is also 47, has had conversations with her 16-year-old daughter about the president and his comments about women. Brosch is a registered Democrat who voted for Trump — the first time she voted for a Republican for president — and has had to repeatedly defend her support of the president to her daughter, who cried on election night because she was so upset that Trump was elected.
Brosch said she didn’t trust Clinton, finding her “very sneaky for a woman,” and she liked Trump’s pledges to protect the country from terrorism and other threats, overhaul the immigration system, and continue to grow the economy. But there are Democratic positions she still supports, including making it easier for low-income families to get health insurance and for people with disabilities to receive benefits. Her top pick for president was Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a moderate Republican.
She worries that Trump is setting a bad example for young people, and she doesn’t understand why he continues to tweet inaccurate and inflammatory things. She has made clear to her children and her husband’s children that women should not be treated in the ways the president described in the “Access Hollywood” tape. She has no sympathy for men who abuse their wives, saying that “they ruin their own lives by committing those acts.”
“I wouldn’t say that I necessarily like him,” Brosch said during lunch with her own mother, a Republican Trump supporter, at a pizza restaurant in a Liberty strip mall this week. “I tried to keep it based on what he could do for the country business-wise, growth-wise — and maybe not a good choice, on my part, for setting an example for my girls.”
Brosch said she doesn’t consider herself a Republican, although she’s no longer a full-fledged Democrat. “I’m right down the middle,” she said.
She said the president’s first year in office has shown her the importance and power of Congress. She plans to vote in the midterm elections, although she has yet to research the candidates.
“Honestly, I think that is where our country’s biggest problem is,” said Brosch, who works as a bookkeeper. “I don’t think one single president is going to change anything. It’s going to take a lot of bipartisanship, and we really have a problem in this country with that. People don’t want to listen to the other person’s side respectfully. That’s the biggest problem.”
Prominent women working in the White House have repeatedly defended the president by pointing out that millions of women voted for Trump having heard his comments on the “Access Hollywood” tape and knowing about the accusations from more than a dozen women who say that he inappropriately groped, touched or kissed them without their permission — allegations Trump denies. They argue there should be more focus on how his policies are helping women.
“You have 800,000 women took new jobs last year because of his leadership. . . . We are a safer, more prosperous nation — that includes all of us, including the nation’s women — because of Donald Trump’s leadership,” Kellyanne Conway, senior counselor to the president, said in an ABC News interview earlier this month when asked if the president believes that Porter was falsely accused.
This is the same sort of message that Cecilia S. Johnson delivers when challenged by people who don’t understand how a young African American woman who lives in inner-city Kansas City can support someone like Trump.
Johnson, 30, grew up in a trailer park in southeastern Arkansas and in inner-city Kansas City, surrounded by Democrats. In spring 2008, she said she flipped through a magazine — probably Ebony or Essence — and read an article about an African American man explaining why he is a Republican. She went home, pulled up the Wikipedia pages for the two political parties and decided then that she was a Republican. Later, she got involved with the state party. In 2016, her favorite candidate was former Texas governor Rick Perry, and she was “very, very vocally against [Trump] running for president,” posting tirades about him on her social media accounts.
When Trump became the nominee, Johnson decided that she would vote for him and focus on his policy stances, not his personality. She often disagrees with the things that he says and tweets, but she said she understands that’s what comes with having an unpolished outsider in the Oval Office.
“For years and years and years and years, the American people have been complaining about regular old politicians who say stuff to be nice and say stuff because they know it will make you feel good and this and that,” said Johnson, who is the president of Kansas City Young Republicans. “And then you get what you’ve been saying for all of this time that you wanted, and it’s a little rougher and more abrasive than you thought it was going to be.”
She then puts it another way.
“Do you got a boyfriend?” Johnson asked a reporter during a recent interview. “Do you like everything that comes out of his mouth? But you’re with him, right? Even though he gets on your damn nerves? . . . Nobody’s going to be perfect, and he has not been, but I think he has done a good job. So I still stand by my boyfriend.”