ICARD, N.C. — If Hillary Clinton becomes the first female president of the United States, a lot of women at Granny’s Country Kitchen will be upset.
They know Trump has said crude things about women. He may even have behaved like a lout. But when forced to weigh Trump’s behavior against their disdain for Clinton, the women at Granny’s say it’s not even close.
“She couldn’t care less about me,” said Brenda Vaughn, 62, wearing a “Women for Trump” shirt at a rally at this landmark restaurant, home to Friday night gospel gatherings and a reputation for the best fried chicken in these Blue Ridge foothills.
Like other women here, Vaughn came out Wednesday to listen to wives of Republican congressmen, who are on a week-long barnstorming bus tour through this critical swing state. And she disparaged Clinton as much, if not more, than cheered Trump.
“When I see her, all I see is plastic — all fake. He might have said things people don’t agree with, but he is real,” said Vaughn, who helped distribute 400 Trump signs around neighboring McDowell County.
“I know of only one Hillary sign,” she said proudly.
A growing gender gap is marking the 2016 campaign. Not since CBS News exit polls were first taken in 1972 has there been such a divide in how men and women view candidates. Polls show that more women are abandoning Trump, while men are still more likely to support him than Clinton.
After The Washington Post released a video Friday showing Trump making vulgar comments about women and bragging of his ability to force himself on them sexually because he was a “star,” Clinton’s advantage among women jumped, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC Survey.
Overall, the survey showed Clinton had an 11-point lead, 46 percent to 35 percent. But among women, her lead grew from 12 points in mid-September to a remarkable 21 points this month.
Perhaps more unexpected than women abandoning Trump are those who still enthusiastically support him. Judging from conversations with those leading the “Women for Trump” bus tour, and the women it is attracting, the female Trump support has little to do with him.
Many of these women are steadfast supporters of traditional GOP policies of low taxes and small government — and many simply can’t stomach Clinton. They call her “unrelatable,” “corrupt” and a “machine” who has been angling for the presidency for what they say feels like a lifetime. Many strongly disagree with her policy positions, especially her views in support of abortion rights.
Many also said they don’t like everything about Trump. But they have been forced to disregard his less savory attributes and focus on issues important to them, such as Trump’s promise of tighter immigration controls.
“I am voting for policies, not the personalities,” Suzanne Conaway, wife of Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.) told the crowd at Granny’s.
“I am voting on America’s future, not on Trump’s past,” said Carolyn Yoho, wife of Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.), before she set off Thursday morning for another day on the trail. “The Clinton regime and machine has been rife with corruption for years and years and years and we don’t want to go down that path again.”
Since the video surfaced Friday, several women have come forward to say that Trump has groped them or made other unwanted sexual advances. Many here said Thursday they have heard those reports but treat them with great skepticism because of what they perceive as media bias against Trump.
Still, these women accept that Trump made the vulgar comments they heard on the video, and they are worried that Republicans in GOP strongholds like this town of 2,700 will be so disgusted they just won’t vote at all.
“Is it offensive? Yes. Can we forgive it? Yes!” said Debbie Meadows, wife of Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.).
“Amen!” a woman shouted.
“Some people say, ‘I am not voting because both candidates are trash.’ You’ve heard it. I’ve heard it. But you have got to pick because one of them will be president,” Meadows said.
Meadows said Clinton would be far worse, reminding people, “Hillary Clinton calls me a ‘deplorable!’ ” Even worse, she argued, Clinton said, “I’m irredeemable.”
She told the Christian crowd that Clinton was essentially telling her she couldn’t go to heaven.
LeeAnn Johnson, wife of Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) also urged people not to stay home Nov. 8
“If someone says both candidates are flawed and don’t want to vote, tell them that as many as seven justices on the Supreme Court are at stake,” she said.
Yoho also addressed the video, saying, “When I found out, I had a few moments of righteous indignation. Then I got some perspective.”
She said she has heard professional men speaking “very inappropriately and it doesn’t make them incompetent.” And she noted that huge numbers of women bought “Fifty Shades of Grey,” the best-selling erotic novel that centered on bondage and rough sex.
“Women can be just as inappropriate,” she said.
Vaughn, the retiree in the “Women for Trump” shirt, said she is definitely voting, as the saying around here goes, “If the Lord is willing and the creek doesn’t rise.”
Many of the women interviewed said they are insulted when people tell them they should vote because they would be electing the first female president. In fact, they are energized to campaign against her because they dislike her so much.
“How can she be so offended by his nasty talk, his lewd talk, when she bullied, silenced and intimidated women who had been abused by her husband?” Meadows said, repeating a common sentiment here.
Nancy Schulze, a Republican activist who organized the bus tour, said a rotating handful of congressional wives are on the bus, along with staff members from Capitol Hill. Earlier in the week, Dorothy Woods, widow of Tyrone Woods, who was killed in the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, also spoke at stops to urge people to support Trump.
Schulze said she believes women will decide the 2016 election in key states including North Carolina and Pennsylvania. She is urging people to forget “locker room talk” and “focus on the two very different visions for the country.”
Alison Lloyd, a cashier at Granny’s, said she is an independent who voted for Obama last time. She is still undecided and getting more confused about whom to support.
After the Trump gathering was over and the “Women for Trump” bus motored on to its next stop, Lloyd recalled the criticism against Mitt Romney in 2012 when he talked of having “binders full of women.”
“Remember the backlash? It was out of control against Romney. And for Donald Trump to say what he did, and for me then to watch all these women speak on his behalf, and 25 more sit back and clap, is remarkable,” said Lloyd, a mother of two.
She said it is so puzzling that she finds herself questioning if there isn’t more to Trump than she realizes, because he had done so many offensive things and yet his support holds.
“Is there something about this man that I am not getting?” she said, shaking her head and serving another customer a “country boy” — a bowl of pinto beans, corn bread and coleslaw.
As Lloyd rang up Carol Smith’s bill at the register, the scheduler for a local orthodontist group said she is worried that Trump could kill Obamacare. She said that would be bad news for those with preexisting conditions, including her husband, who has heart disease.
“It would devastate us,” Smith, 48, said.
Yet she still plans to vote Trump.
“I just feel she is corrupt,” said Smith, adding she wouldn’t put it past Clinton to somehow steal the election.
Scott Clement contributed to this story.