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National

Donald Trump Accuses Hillary Clinton Of Playing The 'Woman Card'

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We're going to take a closer look now at gender in this presidential race. When Donald Trump accused Hillary Clinton of playing the woman card, here's how she responded.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HILLARY CLINTON: Well, if fighting for women's health care and paid family leave and equal pay is playing the woman card, then deal me in.

CORNISH: For some perspective on the so-called gender card, we called Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. She says politicians often play it, but those politicians are usually men.

DEBBIE WALSH: It's always about who can be the toughest and the strongest. So the gender card is something that we've seen played out, and I think we notice it more when a woman is talking about some of the issues that she may bring to the table that are different because she's a woman. But yet it's something that we have seen men use, and we've certainly seen it in this campaign.

CORNISH: Right. Is there a flipside to this, essentially a masculinity card?

WALSH: There absolutely is. And I think we've seen particularly Donald Trump playing it. You saw him talking about Ben Carson is weak and Jeb Bush has low energy, needing his mother to help him get elected, all the talk about little Marco. And then the whole exchange between Rubio and Trump earlier on about the size of one's hands and what does that mean was, to me in many ways, the epitome of the masculinity gender card run amok.

CORNISH: So who does this conversation help or hurt? 'Cause it's clear it's going to keep coming up again and again as we go forward.

WALSH: I think that you heard last night in Hillary Clinton's response that she is embracing that, and she's not asking people to vote for her just because she's a woman. But she is asserting that because she is a woman that is a value added to her candidacy.

CORNISH: I want to fact check a claim, though, from Donald Trump, essentially him saying that women don't like Clinton. What do we know from the data, from polling - I mean, we're pretty far in the primary season now. Is there anything about Clinton that turns women off?

WALSH: We have consistently seen a gender gap benefiting her in these primaries. So if you look at last night, there was an 11-point gender gap with women 11 points more likely to support Hillary Clinton than men. So if you're looking at that as a measure, I don't see that she is going to face a challenge in that way.

CORNISH: But for a while we heard about younger women choosing Bernie Sanders over Clinton.

WALSH: Yeah, they were choosing Bernie Sanders over her, but still at a lower rate than young men. And historically we have seen since 1980 very consistently a gender gap where women vote differently than men and they are more likely to support the Democratic candidates than men, less likely to support the Republican candidate than men. And there's nothing in watching through this primary and imagining if it is these two candidates as the general election candidates that Donald chump is going to be the candidate to turn that around.

CORNISH: Now we want to turn to Republican Ted Cruz for a moment because he's just named Carly Fiorina as his running mate. Help us think about all of this in context. Does the woman card matter enough to voters - right? Is it a litmus test?

WALSH: Well, I think that's not a women's card. It is not about having a woman on the ticket that will get women to shift over and vote for the Republican. It is about a whole set of policy issues that are frankly more in line with the Democratic Party. So it is not at all really about the gender of the candidate. It is about party and that is largely what drives that difference in the vote.

CORNISH: Debbie Walsh is the director for the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. Thanks for speaking with us.

WALSH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.