Is Trump driving female voters to turn away from the GOP?

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Supporters listen an speech by U.S. first lady Michelle Obama  during a campaign rally in support of U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, U.S., October 27, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria - RTX2QRN0

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JUDY WOODRUFF: And now we turn to the allegations that Donald Trump, and some of his surrogates, have not only alienated, but declared war on women this election cycle, this on a day when another woman has come forward to accuse Trump of groping her, bringing the total number of accusers now to at least 12.

The former Miss Finland in the 2006 Miss Universe Pageant charges that he grabbed her from behind as they were being photographed together.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), Presidential Nominee: What we want to do is to replenish the Social Security Trust Fund…

DONALD TRUMP (R), Presidential Nominee: Such a nasty woman.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The “nasty woman” interjection at the last debate, Donald Trump standing right behind Hillary Clinton during the second debate, the “Access Hollywood” audiotape from 2005 in which he boasted of groping women.

DONALD TRUMP: And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything.

BILLY BUSH: Whatever you want.

DONALD TRUMP: Grab them by the (WORD DELETED).

JUDY WOODRUFF: And subsequent allegations by women who say Trump grabbed or inappropriately kissed them in the past.

It’s all taking a toll. A poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found evangelical Christian women, in particular, are breaking away; 58 percent support Trump, compared to 77 percent who voted for Mitt Romney in 2012. Plus, a third of Republican women in Congress have defected from Trump.

But the nominee’s male surrogates are on the offensive. This week, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich scolded FOX News anchor Megyn Kelly.

FORMER REP. NEWT GINGRICH, Former Speaker of the House: You are fascinated with sex, and you don’t care about public policy.

MEGYN KELLY, FOX News: Me, really?

NEWT GINGRICH: That’s what I get out of watching you tonight.

MEGYN KELLY: You know what, Mr. Speaker, I am not fascinated by sex, but I am fascinated by the protection of women and understanding what we’re getting in the Oval Office.

NEWT GINGRICH: OK.

MEGYN KELLY: And I think the American voters would like to know…

NEWT GINGRICH: And, therefore, we are going to send Bill Clinton back to the East Wing, because, after all, you are worried about sexual predators.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The exchange elicited praise from Trump yesterday.

DONALD TRUMP: We don’t play games, Newt, right? We don’t play games.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But the Clinton campaign is hoping to capitalize.

DONALD TRUMP: I would look her right in that fat ugly face of hers.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Using Trump’s own language about women in ads that show young girls looking in the mirror.

And, today, in North Carolina, the candidate had this to say:

HILLARY CLINTON: I wish I didn’t have to say this, but, indeed, dignity and respect for women and girls is also on the ballot in this election.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, less than two weeks from Election Day, several polls show Clinton leading among women by even more than President Obama’s 11-point margin four years ago.

To explore what’s behind some of those numbers and the fears from some Republicans that their party may be alienating female voters for years to come, we are joined by Missy Shorey, executive director of Maggie’s List. It’s a political action group that works to elect conservative women to Congress. And Christine Matthews, she is a Republican pollster and president of Bellwether Research.

And we welcome both of you to the “NewsHour.”

Let me start with you, Christine Matthews.

Someone you know, I’m sure, Nicolle Wallace, tweeted this week — and I’m quoting — she said: “Republicans are engaged in a hot war,” her words, “against women that will end badly for the party.”

How do you see what’s going on right now?

CHRISTINE MATTHEWS, Bellwether Research: I agree.

The whole tenor and tone of this campaign has been one in which women voters have been casualties. I think, you know, we have really turned off women. I think the gains that we made as a party in 2014 sort of on the heels of recovering from 2012, where two Senate candidates unfortunately used rape analogies in very unfortunate ways, we have made progress.

I think this election cycle, we have completely regressed, and we’re going to — I think we’re going to see a historic gender gap in the lines of 20-plus points.

JUDY WOODRUFF: When you say “we have regressed,” what are you referring to?

CHRISTINE MATTHEWS: What I mean, is, you know, the — basically, the Democrats have always said, you know, Republicans are waging a war on women.

And I think that we started in 2014 to have conversations that moved us past that. Again, we had the unfortunate comments in 2012 about rape.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

CHRISTINE MATTHEWS: And, in 2014, I think we had some constructive conversations. We won Senate races in most of our battleground state. And we had sort of moved beyond that.

And now not only are we seen as not sort of modern or with the era. We’re seen as completely regressive cavemen, actually.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean because of comments by Donald Trump, by other Republican men supporting him?

CHRISTINE MATTHEWS: I think because of Donald Trump primarily. He set the tone for this. He set it in the primary when he attacked Carly Fiorina’s face and said, you know, “Look at that face. Is that presidential?”

And it went downhill from there. And I don’t think that we have seen a lot of Republican men stepping up and saying this is — they have said it’s unacceptable. But the problem is, and the rub, is, in many cases, they’re still supporting Donald Trump. And I think the women in the party feel very, I have to say betrayed, yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Missy Shorey, as a woman in the Republican Party, how do you see all this?

MISSY SHOREY, Maggie’s List: Well, thank you, Judy. This is a very important conversation.

And the way that we really need to look at it is, this is a raw moment in politics. We don’t have a perfect candidate. But at the end of the day, this election is really going to come down to our future. It is a pocketbook issue. It is an issue where families and women and children deserve to have more opportunity and, quite frankly, much more responsible government.

And, in many ways, the conversation, the dialogue we’re having today is so distracting, because the real issues at hand are being utterly ignored.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you’re saying that you don’t take seriously the concerns about what Donald Trump said in that audiotape, the “Access Hollywood” tape, and the accusations by the women who have come forward?

MISSY SHOREY: Absolutely, Judy, everyone takes it seriously. Everyone is concerned, and everyone knows that that behavior is not acceptable.

Mr. Trump has apologized, and I have accepted his apology. And, as a result, many people do. But this is a tough year. And people are going to have to look and say, where do they want the future of the party to be? Do they want our values of less government and opportunity to go away? Do we want issues of security to be taken off the table?

And, instead, essentially, we’re doing — we’re looking at a terrible personal behavior, as opposed to really looking at the policies taking us forward. And that’s what’s going to keep the party going.

And Christine is absolutely right. This is a very tough time for us, but it’s very important we stand up for our own values.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Christine Matthews, what she’s saying is, the pocketbook economic issues are more important than any of this.

CHRISTINE MATTHEWS: I don’t think — well, I would respectfully disagree.

I think that what Donald Trump has done, the tone that he has set for this campaign has been so damaging, that it’s very difficult to have a conversation about pocketbook issues. It’s so over the top, it’s so distracting, it’s so disrespectful.

I, for one, am not beyond that. For me — and I think every woman has to struggle with this. Every Republican consultant that I know, every woman, this is all we talk about, how difficult this is, how stressful this is, how, you know — with two other women consultants, I started a firm that was supposed to help us talk to Republican women, or all women, really.

And we feel like we have been almost slapped in the face by this kind of conversation that we’re having. And, for me, I’m not going to be supporting Donald Trump. I never was and I never will.

The question for myself and other Republican consultants, other women voters is, then what? What do you do? It’s not like there’s a full embrace of Hillary Clinton on the Republican side. You know, Republican women don’t like her either. So then the question is, what do you do?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me come back to Missy Shorey.

You hear what she is — you hear what Christine is saying, that when Republican women get together, they can’t get past what has happened in this campaign.

MISSY SHOREY: Well, maybe some people, that’s their case, and maybe that’s kind of a mind-set of a consultant.

But for those of us who are grassroots activists, we have to respect democracy. Millions of people came out and voted in the primaries on a level they never have before. And, as a result, there is something there. There’s a chord that Donald Trump has touched on.

Now, do I share her concerns on many levels? Yes, I do, and I think every woman does. But this is not going to be the only issue that’s here. We really need to look at the bigger picture. We need to look at — and I also say, let’s elect more women to office, so we have more options going forward.

Let’s look at the future of what’s there. And I will tell you that when I speak with my other Republican women, yes, this comes up, but it’s not the only thing we’re talking about. We’re talking about many things, in terms of, do we want a culture of corruption going forward that we have seen with the Clinton White House and we will see in the next one? Or do we want a situation where we can have opportunity, we can have economic prosperity and we can have security?

Those are things that are important, and that we can get the kind of Supreme Court that we need for this country to protect our constitutional rights that just have not been brought there. These are things that people are having a hard time getting into and past because of the issues at hand. They are serious, but they’re not the only issues.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Christine Matthews, what about her comment that, well, consultants may feel this way, but we’re out here in the trenches?

CHRISTINE MATTHEWS: Well, OK, so, I am a consultant, but I also do research among women voters.

And I have to say that women voters are expressing despair. Republican women voters, independent women voters, I’m seeing words used like despair, agony. They are very unhappy with what they have seen in terms of how Donald Trump has talked about women.

So, it’s not just like the professional class in D.C. that is concerned about this. I am. My friends here are, but so are the voters. So are women that I talk to as part of my research every day.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see this getting resolved? I want to ask both of you this question.

CHRISTINE MATTHEWS: Yes.

You know, I am concerned, actually. I think the Republican roster is going to shrink. I think a number of women who worked in this field, who have worked in this field for decades are going to declare themselves free agents. And they’re going to say, a party that basically rejected other qualified candidates and is supporting Donald Trump, a party who, you know, we’re seeing, because of Donald Trump, you know, Vladimir Putin’s favorability is rising, Paul Ryan’s shrinking. Where is my role in this?

And so I think you are going to see a number of women say, my time and talent are worth something, and I’m not sure this is something I’m going to continue to do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Missy Shorey, how do you see this getting resolved?

MISSY SHOREY: I think the ultimate resolution is for us to really look and say, what do we stand for as individuals, as Americans, and where do we see the future of this country, and really standing up for policies and programs, for example, the better way that Paul Ryan has put forward, and the first 100 days of what Donald Trump has said.

Is he a perfect candidate? No. But the reality is, we have to weigh the future of our country with this. I do think we have a lot of soul-searching to do as a party. Christine is absolutely right. But the issue is, do we let other people define who we are as a party, or do we embrace our principles, move forward and relentlessly advocate for them?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we — I know that both of you are going to be continuing to think about this hard until Election Day and beyond.

Missy Shorey, we thank you. Christine Matthews, thank you for joining us.

CHRISTINE MATTHEWS: Thank you.

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