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For Many GOP Women, Party Loyalty Trumps Personal Affront

“Locker room talk” has been the national buzz phrase of the last week; in the 2016 campaign, it’s not just videos that go viral, it’s talking points too.

“Do you have men in your family?” Mary Anne Huggins asked me when I brought up the now-infamous Donald Trump “Access Hollywood” tape. Huggins is the GOP chairwoman for Gaston County, North Carolina, and we were speaking in the county headquarters about the close race in her neck of the woods. “I hear that’s a lot of locker room talk,” she said. “Don’t you think that’s minor?”

People on Twitter and television and many in the Republican Party’s national leadership do not think the tape a minor issue, but most rank-and-file party members do; according to a Morning Consult/Politico poll conducted the day after the video’s release, 74 percent said that party officials should continue to support their nominee. That number, of course, includes Republican women — 73 percent of them said the party should still back Trump. Another Gaston County Republican I talked to, Lou Armstrong, has supported Trump since the primaries and said she didn’t like the tape, but it didn’t make a real difference because “everyone messes up and makes mistakes, and when you get in the public eye, they bring all that stuff up just because they’re making jabs.”

The strength of partisanship has proven more powerful than many could have imagined, as Republicans, including Republican women, decide that the agenda of their party matters above all else this election. That Morning Consult poll found that support for Trump was about equal between Republican men and women. And 82 percent of Republican women and 84 percent of Republican men are still supporting Trump, according to SurveyMonkey data from October 3-9.1

The fact that GOP women don’t appear to be reacting to the Trump tape much differently than men is perhaps the strongest sign we’ve seen in this election of how stark a choice voters feel they are faced with in Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump. Republican voters’ support for their nominee this year doesn’t look much different than it has in any other election year, which is something of a surprise, given the scandal-ridden nominee. (Of course, the recent series of sexual assault allegations against Trump could change things.)

1952 93% 94% -1
1956 95 92 +3
1960 93 89 +4
1964 60 69 -9
1968 90 82 +8
1972 95 95 0
1976 88 90 -2
1980 79 78 +1
1984 91 94 -3
1988 84 92 -8
1992 79 75 +4
1996 77 80 -3
2000 84 86 -2
2004 95 94 +1
2008 90 92 -2
2012 90 93 -2
2016 81 84 -3
GOP support for the party’s nominee varies little by gender

Data for 1952-2012 comes from the pre-election ANES; 2016 data comes from a SurveyMonkey poll conducted Oct. 3-9. Some numbers may not add up due to rounding.

Source: American National Election Studies, SurveyMonkey

Huggins didn’t want to talk much about Trump’s comments. “Gaston County is certainly supporting the nominee, his statement was certainly professional, he addressed it,” she said, explaining that she felt her party’s choice was better than any alternative. “Move on.”

Her eagerness to move on is no doubt because the words Trump used aren’t easily defended if dwelled upon for too long, which was a problem that another woman encountered this week during a 7-minute-long CNN segment. Vicki Sciolaro, chairwoman for the Kansas Republican Party’s third congressional district appeared on Brooke Baldwin’s show Monday, and her remarks have made the internet rounds.

“I do believe that most men will talk about women in ways that they would never talk about publicly,” Sciolaro said. “I did not vote for Donald Trump in the primary. I did not vote for him, he was not my choice, he was, like, next to my last choice. But I absolutely will be [voting for him in general election] and here’s why: because of the issues.”

The issues that most concern Republican women, according to the SurveyMonkey data, were the economy first and foremost, followed by terrorism. Among Republican women overall, including those who say they won’t vote for Trump, 39 percent said they think Trump respects women “a lot,” compared to 47 percent of GOP men, while 39 percent of both men and women said he respected women “some.” Some. Republicans and Republican women are, by virtue of the person they have nominated, sacrificing a certain amount of respect in service to their concern for particular issues. This is a rational, real-world choice to make, but it is one that deserves to be examined.

“I am a strong, pro-life Christian woman and I would never talk like that,” Sciolaro said on CNN before going on to defend Trump, saying, “God can use anybody,” a comment that acknowledged him as an imperfect vehicle for the party’s message, but this year’s vehicle nonetheless. Defenses like this make the Republican leadership’s misjudgment of how their base would perceive condemnations of Trump understandable — Sciolaro and others share the leadership’s moral outrage but are perhaps more desperate for a Washington shakeup than House Speaker Paul Ryan and others had guessed. On Friday, Ben Carson said he would “love us to bring back our Judeo-Christian values” but then added, “at a time other than a political election.”

Pragmatism and partisanship are doubtless the main drivers of Republicans’ support at this crucial time in the election, but there may be another factor worth considering when it comes to women’s brush-off of Trump’s comments: Social media posts and conversations I’ve had on the trail indicate that any number of women are unfazed by Trump’s talk. Maybe they already hold men in low esteem when it comes to this sort of thing. If that’s the case, Trump is, if nothing else, simply living up to women’s dismally low expectations.

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  1. Although this poll was partly conducted before the “Access Hollywood” tape was released, it reflects more recent national polls, which show Trump’s support holding relatively steady, which wouldn’t be the case if Republican women were deserting him in large numbers.

Clare Malone is a former senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight.