Donald Trump missed a chance early in the presidential race to make inroads with independent female voters, but now the damage is done and analysts say the Republican front-runner likely can’t make amends with women he repulsed by spewing insults and sexist remarks.
Republican presidential candidates have suffered a gender gap for decades, but Mr. Trump turned the gap into an abyss, which polls show will doom him to a sweeping loss in a general election matchup against Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.
The real estate mogul fared worse than his two Republican rivals in theoretical matchups against Mrs. Clinton, largely because of his disadvantage with female voters.
Mr. Trump lost female voters to Mrs. Clinton 52 percent to 29 percent in a recent national poll by Investors Business Daily. He barely edged out the former secretary of state among male voters, 42 percent to 41 percent, which wasn’t enough to make up for the deficit with women.
He lost overall to Mrs. Clinton by 12 percentage points, 47 percent to 35 percent.
The same poll showed Ohio Gov. John Kasich narrowly losing the female vote to Mrs. Clinton but beating her by double digits among male voters to win overall 45 percent to 38 percent.
Mr. Kasich, who has no path to the nomination other than through a brokered convention, lost the female vote 44 percent to 41 percent and won with men 49 percent to 32 percent in the survey.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, the front-runner’s chief rival, also had a gender gap in the poll, but not nearly as wide as Mr. Trump’s. He lost women in a matchup with Mrs. Clinton 49 percent to 36 percent and won with men 43 percent to 38 percent.
The gender gap left Mr. Cruz with a 5-point deficit to overcome in the poll’s overall vote total, 44 percent to 39 percent.
“Trump is the least likely to be able to make up ground with women, and that’s because it seems he cannot help himself from criticizing and condemning women and saying overtly sexist things,” said Jennifer L. Lawless, director of the Women & Politics Institute at American University.
“In order to win an election, the Republican candidate doesn’t need to win the majority of the female vote but he does need to at least make that gender gap smaller than it has been in the last two election cycles, and I just don’t see how Trump can do that,” she said.
Indeed, Mr. Trump’s campaign repeatedly suffers self-inflicted wounds when it comes to female voters.
In the past two weeks, he has used social media to spread an unflattering photograph of Mr. Cruz’s wife, Heidi. His campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, was charged with misdemeanor battery after a female reporter accused him of manhandling her at a press conference in Florida. The candidate proposed “punishing” women who get illegal abortions, a position he quickly reversed amid backlash from both pro-life and pro-choice forces.
Mr. Trump insisted Tuesday that he didn’t have a problem with female voters. To the contrary, he claimed that he had a strong appeal to “security moms,” the female voting bloc with an eye toward national security issues that emerged after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“They liked me best because they say, ‘You’re best with the military, you’re best with the borders, you’re best with security.’ And I say to them, ‘I’m going to be best for women’s health issues, much better than Hillary, much better than anybody else,’” Mr. Trump told MSNBC while campaigning in Wisconsin, which held its presidential primary Tuesday.
“Nobody respects women more than I do, not even close,” he said. “I think we are going to do fantastically well with women.”
Mr. Trump also blamed the media for giving women the wrong impression.
“I get a very, very unfair press having to do with women and many other things,” he said.
The assertion met a sharp rebuke from Penny Young Nance, president of the conservative group Concerned Women for America and author of the upcoming book “Feisty & Feminine: A Rallying Cry for Conservative Women.”
“He’s done this to himself,” she said, noting insults hurled at Mrs. Cruz, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly and former Republican presidential contender Carly Fiorina. “The press didn’t make him do those late-night tweets. He did it to himself.”
Mrs. Nance, whose book includes an examination of the resurgence of “security mom” voters, said Mr. Trump should expect only a small boost from those usually reliable Republican voters as a result of his strong stance on national security.
“That will definitely carry a measure of women, but in a general election it is not going to be enough. His electability among women is terrible,” she said.
Mrs. Clinton also suffers high unfavorable ratings from women, but they are offset by Mr. Trump’s even higher negative numbers from women when the two go head to head.
She has made her appeal to female voters a cornerstone of her campaign, focusing on women’s issues such as equal pay and highlighting the historic nature of her run to be the first female president of the United States.
Appearing on the daytime TV talk show “The View,” Mrs. Clinton said Mr. Trump does not insult only women but has “insulted everybody.”
She also didn’t miss the opportunity to reference Mr. Trump’s feud with Fox News’ Ms. Kelly.
“The way he’s conducted his campaign, the things he said — and he has insulted everybody and he has demeaned everybody,” Mrs. Clinton said. “You know, he started on his very first day saying that all Mexican immigrants were rapists and criminals, right?”
She continued: “I just don’t understand what he thinks is the role of somebody running for president. I don’t think it is to scapegoat people, divide people, engage in this kind of prejudice and paranoia. So it’s not only women, and we who should be concerned; it’s everybody because of the way that he conducts himself. I reject it.
“I don’t think the vast majority of Americans, let’s hope, want to reward that kind of behavior and that sort of really hateful rhetoric,” Mrs. Clinton said.