In a dark wood-paneled room deep in the belly of a downtown Cleveland mall, the first day of the Republican National Convention is not getting off to a great start. Rows of banquet chairs lined up for an event hosted by the group Women Vote Trump are empty.
“Ladies and gentlemen — and I’m so glad to see gentlemen in the audience,” says Ann Stone, co-chair of Women Vote Trump. “In fact, I’m glad to see anybody in the audience.”
This is meant to be a joke about how difficult it is to get around inside the police state Cleveland has temporarily become, but it’s undercut by the fact that at the moment, there are seven women speakers on stage, and eight women in the audience (who are outnumbered by the 11 reporters in attendance). The panel is called “What Women Problem?”
Stone goes on, unbothered, recounting the time, early in the primary, when she approached the Trump campaign. “I asked them, ‘So, what are we doing for women? You know, how are you reaching women? Where’s our coalition?’ And they said, ‘We don’t have one.’ I said, ‘OK! We’ll work on that.'”
She didn’t want to work on the problem from inside the campaign, though. “If we’re in the campaign, we’re paid shills; if we’re outside the campaign, we’re genuine supporters,” Stone says. “The women here today represent genuine supporters of Donald Trump.” She directs her remarks to the C-SPAN cameras at the back of the room, which are trained close enough on her face that no one at home can tell the audience is practically nonexistent.
Much of the event, and a second panel on Tuesday called “What Women Want,” was like that: an exercise in denial about the extent of the problem the Republican Party — and Donald Trump, in particular — have with women. An April Gallup poll showed 70 percent of women have an unfavorable opinion of Trump, the largest gender gap for a presidential candidate in history.
Women at both events want to correct the narrative that the GOP is anti-woman. “A lot of people don’t believe what they hear on the evening news, and we know that, so that’s an opening for you,” Stone says to the handful of female Trump supporters in the room Monday. “I would just remind you: ABC is All ‘Bout Clinton, NBC is Nothing But Clinton, CNN is the Clinton News Network and, God bless CBS, they did it to themselves, they’re the Clinton BS network.”
For instance, you may be hearing from mainstream outlets like these that women are not supporting Donald Trump. Don’t believe those numbers, says Amy Kremer at Monday’s event. “I live in Atlanta, in suburbia, and I can tell you that probably 75 to 90 percent of the women on my street are supporting Donald Trump. It’s not something that the mainstream media or the liberal-bias media want you to know, but it’s definitely happening,” she says.
You might’ve also heard about the so-called “War on Women” being waged by Republican lawmakers. “There are so many women now who have broken through the barriers. I’m not so sure that it’s such a ‘War on Women’ anymore,” Candy Carson, wife of the failed 2016 GOP candidate slash neurosurgeon, says at Tuesday’s brunch panel, held in a dimly lit restaurant in downtown Cleveland. She cites Carly Fiorina, as well as a woman she knows who used to be vice president at Johns Hopkins Hospital and rose to become president of another hospital — in Dubai. “I’m not so sure that the inequities are inequitable,” Carson says, laughing.
Concerned Women for America President Penny Nance nods in agreement. “At this point in history, women have more opportunity than we’ve ever had anywhere in the world at any other time,” she says. She notes that her grandmother had nine children and worked in a factory; her mother dropped out of school at 16. “And here I am!” she says. “What an amazing country we have…. We have gained so much.”
Ashley Carter, a sweet-natured grassroots director for Independent Women’s Voice — which describes itself as a “nonpartisan, nonprofit organization for mainstream women, men and families” — discusses polling her group has done. “Even Trump’s most die-hard fans are aware he has all sorts of issues… that people, including themselves, may find objectionable,” she says. “Trump supporters also understand that some of his comments and ideas can ruffle some feathers, but they appreciate his candor, and they feel he did this to garner attention and get people talking about important issues.”
“Many will not say they are Trump supporters, a statement which may reflect on their own beliefs and associations, but they say [in the group’s polling] they will vote for Trump,” she says, apparently trying to reassure the gathered women.
“We want to thank Ashley for that incredible information,” says one of the event’s organizers. “Independent Women’s Voice has just proved all the naysayers incorrect, right?
The women applaud.
Just before the panel, a television reporter interviewing Nance says she wanted to ask about the apparent plagiarism of Melania Trump’s convention speech from remarks Michelle Obama gave at the 2008 Democratic convention. “I’m not sure I’ll have anything to say about that,” Nance says.
On-air, the reporter does ask about the incident. “I thought she did a great job. It was the first time that I heard her speak,” Nance says. “I thought she really clearly showed she was prepared.”
Correction: This piece originally conflated stories about Penny Nance’s mother and grandmother. We regret the error.