GOP race takes a nasty turn for Cruz, Trump
Oshkosh, Wisconsin — Donald Trump’s latest tussle with Ted Cruz is raising new alarms among Republicans about the party front-runner’s ability to win over women, especially in a potential fall presidential match-up with Hillary Clinton.
Trump is under fire for jabs at Cruz’s wife, Heidi, as the rivals engage in an increasingly bitter, personal battle for the GOP presidential nomination. Hostilities reached a new high Friday when Cruz accused Trump and “his henchmen” of stoking false rumors that he’d cheated on his wife.
“We don’t want a president who traffics in sleaze and slime,” the Texas senator told reporters in Wisconsin. “We don’t want a president who seems to have a real issue with strong women.”
Trump responded Friday in a statement saying he had nothing to do with a story published this week by the National Enquirer, which detailed allegations against Cruz of extramarital affairs.
“I have no idea whether or not the cover story about Ted Cruz in this week’s issue of the National Enquirer is true or not, but I had absolutely nothing to do with it, did not know about it and have not, as yet, read it,” he said.
But Trump also noted that the tabloid has been right about several major stories, including allegations in 2007 that former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards had an affair and a child with a campaign worker.
Trump’s comments about women, from his “Apprentice” television program to racy interviews with radio host Howard Stern, have long been seen by Republicans as a potential vulnerability, especially in a general election match-up with Clinton, who would be the country’s first female president.
The issue took off in the first GOP debate when Fox News’ Megyn Kelly asked Trump about calling women “fat pig,” ‘’dog” and other names. Her question sparked a continuing quarrel between Trump and the network.
Trump also faced a backlash after he was quoted in a “Rolling Stone” profile insulting businesswoman Carly Fiorina, who endorsed Cruz after she dropped out of the 2016 Republican race.
The issue reignited Wednesday after an anti-Trump super PAC released an ad featuring a risque photo of his wife, Melania, a former model, taken in a GQ photo shoot.
“Meet Melania Trump. Your Next First Lady. Or, you could support Ted Cruz on Tuesday,” it read. Trump responded by falsely accusing Cruz of running the ad and warning, “Be careful, Lyin’ Ted, or I will spill the beans on your wife!” Cruz’s wife is a former Goldman Sachs investment manager and White House aide, who served as economic policy adviser to President George W. Bush.
On Wednesday night, Trump escalated things when he re-tweeted side-by-side images of Cruz’s wife, with an unflattering grimace, and Melania in a glamorous pose.
At an event Thursday in Wisconsin, Cruz responded by calling Trump “a sniveling coward” who has a problem with women — particularly “strong women.”
Cruz continued to dig in Friday, painting Trump’s comments as part of a larger pattern of misogyny.
“He’s directed these attacks at Megyn Kelly. He’s directed these attacks at Carly Fiorina. He’s directed these attacks at Columba Bush, Jeb Bush’s wife,” he said.
Though Trump has 739 delegates, far more than either Cruz or John Kasich, and more than half the number needed to lock down the nomination, recent polls have shown the billionaire’s favorability on the decline, particularly among women.
In a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 70 percent of women had a negative opinion of Trump. Nearly three quarters of women overall, and 39 percent of Republican women, had an unfavorable view of him in a recent CNN poll.
“He already had a gender gap prior to all this,” said Republican pollster David Winston. “The potential for that to be bigger now looms on the horizon.”
Katie Packer, a former top aide to 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney, and the founder of the anti-Trump Our Principles PAC, said all this spells trouble for the general election.
Packer, whose group was behind a recent ad that features women of various ages reading comments Trump has made about women, said Clinton remains vulnerable among many women.
However, she said, “If he loses women by 10 points more than Mitt Romney, it’s not a question of whether or not he loses, it’s a matter of who does he sweep out with him.”
Indeed, Trump’s latest tweeting struck a sour chord with some female suburban voters considered the key to victory in battleground states such as Colorado.
“He makes all kinds of derogatory statements against women, and I just don’t like to hear that,” said Ilse Lucas, 70, a retired teacher’s aide who doesn’t consider herself a Democrat or Republican. Shopping in a suburb west of Denver, Lucas said Trump’s comments could drive independent voters to Clinton.
But Jennifer Churchfield, a 52-year-old Republican from a suburb south of Denver, extended her displeasure to Cruz as well.
“I don’t know what to say except that I’m disappointed in both of them,” she said. “The conversation needs to be about the economy, jobs, education, foreign policy. You know, things that matter.”
“This is a non-debate,” she added. “What are they doing?”