HAMPTON, N.H. — Billionaire businessman Donald Trump has drawn criticism from both Democrats and Republicans for his controversial remarks about women that many have dubbed sexist and demeaning.
But for college senior Kaffa Cote, all that comes second to jobs. That’s why she drove three hours from her internship at a lab in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, to see Trump speak at a rally on a recent Friday night.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman, as long as you have a job,” Cote, 21, said after the rally, a stack of blue-and-red Trump yard signs in her hand. “I think that’s what the key issue is in this election. And I think he is the guy, of all of them, who can solve it — especially over Hillary [Clinton]. Especially over Hillary. I think she’s focused more on social issues, from what I see.”
Many women who support Trump echo that sentiment. At a recent Trump rally in New Hampshire, women there described him as a candidate who would create jobs and take a tough stance on foreign policy. While much of Trump’s media coverage has focused recently on his derogatory comments about women, those female voters said issues like jobs and health care have won him their support. Although he has gained notoriety for castigating a number of individuals and groups, his supporters don’t seem to mind.
“I work at one of the Home Depots, and in our break room there’s a lot of support for Donald Trump because he’s straight from the shoulder, no BS,” said Sandy Clark, a 72-year-old cashier from Chester, New Hampshire. “He’s a successful businessman … He’s at the top.”
Some 750 people packed into the Winnacunnet High School auditorium to hear Trump speak, with an additional 800 in an overflow room and more outside — all in a town of just 15,000.
Many of them waited outside for up to three hours on a blistering August day to hear him discuss what he described as the oppression of downtrodden Americans.
“There’s a tremendous silent majority that politicians have taken advantage of. I mean, they have taken advantage of the people of this country long enough,” Trump told the crowd. “They’re largely incompetent, except when it comes to getting re-elected. That’s what they do.”
‘It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman, as long as you have a job. I think that’s what the key issue is in this election. And I think [Trump] is the guy, of all of them, who can solve it – especially over Hillary [Clinton].’
Trump was well received, drawing easy cheers and laughs from the enthusiastic audience. He joked with the audience and spoke in his trademark over-the-top style. Afterward, he worked the crowd, signing books and shaking hands.
His popular reception is mirrored in the polls, where he has a clear lead. Real Clear Politics’ average of recent polls puts him at 22 percent among likely Republican primary voters — 11 points ahead of the next candidate, Jeb Bush. The same holds true in polls for New Hampshire, where Trump is at 24 percent, 13 points ahead of Bush, according to Real Clear Politics’ average.
However, Trump’s decisive lead in New Hampshire may not be a good predictor for its first-in-the-nation primary, Feb. 9, much less for the GOP nomination, according to Linda Fowler, a professor of government at Dartmouth College in Hanover.
“These early polls don’t mean very much, if anything. It’s all about name recognition. It’s all about who was in the headlines last,” she said. “And particularly with Trump, it’s a phenomenon driven by the media.”
Not all publicity may be good publicity either. There’s always a chance that some voters will start to like him less as they see more of him in the media — especially given the kind of negative attention that his campaign has attracted.
During the first prime-time Republican presidential debate on Aug. 6, co-moderator and Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly asked Trump about times he has called various women “fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals.”
The following day, Trump ripped into her for having asked the question, telling CNN host Don Lemon that she had “blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever” during the debate.
Many people were outraged, saying Trump implied that Kelly asked him a tough question because she was menstruating. RedState.com editor Eric Erickson subsequently disinvited Trump from a major conservative event in Atlanta that week, where he had been scheduled to give the keynote speech.
"As much as I do personally like Donald Trump, his comment about Megyn Kelly on CNN is a bridge too far for me," Erickson said in a statement.
GOP candidates Carly Fiorina, Gov. John Kasich, former Gov. George Pataki and Gov. Scott Walker also came out against Trump’s comments. Fiorina, so far the only woman in the GOP race, tweeted, “Mr. Trump: There. Is. No. Excuse.”
Nor was that the only issue with women recently. He has publicly criticized supermodel Heidi Klum’s appearance, saying, “She’s no longer a 10.” On a tear against other targets, Trump has insulted the wartime record of Sen. John McCain, R.-Ariz., and referred to Mexican immigrants as “rapists.”
While Trump’s brash, headline-grabbing comments have been to his advantage throughout most of the campaign, his recent statements about women may have hurt him among voters. A Fox News focus group showed a strong shift away from Trump during the course of the debate, with participants citing his bullying attitude, his lack of specifics and his refusal to rule out running as an independent if he does not win the GOP nomination.
Since then, Trump has lost an average of 2 points in the national polls and 1 point in New Hampshire, according to Real Clear Politics. It’s too soon to tell if that drop will be sustained, but it’s his first real dip since he announced his candidacy in June.
Still, the GOP primary electorate is disproportionately male, according to Fowler. In New Hampshire, a disproportionate number of women are registered as independents, meaning they may vote in either the Democratic or the Republican primary.
“The chances are that many of those women, particularly if they’re turned off by Donald Trump, are going to go in and say, ‘For the purposes of today, I want to be a Democrat, and I’m going to vote for Hillary.’ So it won’t, I don’t think, hurt him that much in the New Hampshire primary,” Fowler said.
Jennifer Horn, the chairwoman of the New Hampshire Republican Committee, recently said of Trump’s attempts to excuse his remarks, “There is a big difference between not being politically correct and being disrespectful, and … Donald Trump was being disrespectful to women.”
But if his comments about women have hurt him among GOP voters, it wasn’t evident among many of the women who went to see him in New Hampshire on Friday.
Carol McFarland, 78, works six days a week as a cashier in Chester. As she and a group of friends waited in the scorching sun to hear him speak, she was adamant about him.
“Mr. Trump is an intelligent person,” she said. “He’ll get this country back on track. He’s a great businessman, and he’s going to secure the border. He’s going to take care of Iran. I have a lot of faith in this man. We need a businessman to run the country, because today, those people in Washington don’t have a clue. He cares about the common person.”
Brittany Fredette, 25, of South Hampton attended the rally with her 20-year-old sister, Michaela, and their father. While Brittany Fredette is undecided and is registered as an independent, she said she plans to vote in the Republican primary and favors Trump.
“For me, one of the most important aspects would definitely be immigration and opportunities that he plans on leaving for people to still come in and still become a part of the country as well as regulating it,” said Fredette, who teaches at a private high school. “He described it really well in his debate. I really enjoyed the image that he gave about allowing that to be possible for people. I loved the big, beautiful door. I really loved it.”
She is also attracted to Trump’s candid style and his business experience, she said — especially as a young renter looking forward to being able to purchase a home. So is Michaela Fredette, who is a student at Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont. This presidential election will be her first. While she’s undecided, she had good things to say about Trump.
“He’s very straightforward, gets what he needs done. He just has those skills about him. He’s able to manage his money, so I think he’ll be able to manage the country as well,” she said.
During his speech, Trump used his wealth and his lack of political experience to his advantage, painting himself as a D.C. outsider who wouldn’t be controlled by donors or lobbyists. That sets him apart from the other GOP candidates, he said, and especially from Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner.
“I want to tell you, nobody is going to control us,” he said. “We’re going to work on this together, and we’re going to make it so strong and so good.”
That hit home for Cote, a self-described “die-hard Republican.” While she believes there will be a female president one day, she said Trump’s focus on jobs, his political independence and his authenticity have won her support.
“What matters is the person. I don’t care if you’re a man or woman or what you are, as long as you’re going to make this economy better and as long as you’re going to fix it so that I can have a job, my siblings can have a job,” she said. “That’s important.”