Angling for an advantage in gender politics

WASHINGTON - She has no stamina. She shouts. She's got nothing going for her but being a woman.

Donald Trump, after toying with gender politics off and on during the campaign, is all in on a mission to undercut Hillary Clinton's credentials by syncing up his say-anything campaign strategy with his alpha-male persona.

The same Republican presidential candidate who mocked "little" Marco Rubio, dismissed "low-energy" Jeb Bush, and promises to "cherish" and "protect" women as president is dismissing the former senator, secretary of state and first lady as little more than a token female who's playing the "woman's card."

"Frankly, all I'm doing is stating the obvious," Trump insisted, when pressed about whether his latest Clinton takedowns were sexist. "Without the woman's card, Hillary would not even be a viable person to run for city council."

That message may resonate with one subset of the electorate and touch off outrage with another. But for many other voters, Trump's line of attack is simply baffling when America is trying to deal with far more complex matters of gender, such as gay marriage and transgender rights.

"It's a very simplistic notion of gender," said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. She said Trump is "putting out there a notion of masculinity" that fits with popular images of the presidency. "He is playing the gender card but not connecting it to policy, instead connecting it to his own macho image and his bravado."

Trump's issues with women in the campaign extend well beyond Clinton.

He has mocked the face of onetime GOP rival Carly Fiorina, who is now Cruz's running mate. He's retweeted an unflattering image of Heidi Cruz, the Texas senator's wife, juxtaposed with a glamorous photo of his wife, Melania. He engaged in a long-running dispute with Megyn Kelly of Fox News in which he dismissed her as a "lightweight" and "bimbo," and described her at one point as having "blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever." He was just as unfiltered in his thoughts about women and their appearances before entering politics.

None of this has seemed to bother Trump's loyal followers in the GOP primaries. But it could be a different matter in the general election, when Republican candidates typically suffer from a gender gap. In every presidential election since 1980, a greater proportion of women than men preferred the Democratic candidate.

"The challenge for Republican candidates has been trying to make some inroads into that women's vote," Walsh said. "And it's hard to imagine that Donald Trump, as of right now, is well positioned to be the Republican candidate to make those inroads, given the things that he's said."

Clinton is betting on gender.

After playing down women's issues in her 2008 campaign against Barack Obama, this time Clinton is embracing the historic nature of her candidacy and playing up her roles as grandmother and longtime advocate for women. She happily addressed Trump's accusations that she was making much of her candidacy as a woman.

"If fighting for women's health care, and paid family leave, and equal pay is playing the woman card," she said, "then deal me in."