These Young GOP Women Support Trump — But Will Others?

Photographed by Nathaniel Welch.
Christy Strutz supports Trump because she thinks he's best on national security.
Nazly De La Hoya likes that Donald Trump is "not afraid of leadership." Christy Strutz thinks he's the "only person who can give us what we need in national security." Leah Le'Vell believes the billionaire businessman's commitment to "bringing jobs back to the country" will help her land one when she graduates next year.

All three are millennial Republican women attending the GOP convention in Cleveland, and all three are firm backers of their party's nominee for president.

"I support him because I feel he wants what’s best for this country and also for millennials and college students," Le'Vell, a 21-year-old involved in several Trump advocacy and outreach efforts, told Refinery29.

Claire Chiara, a 22-year-old delegate from California, echoes all three fellow Trump supporters when asked why she's backing the businessman.

"I think that Donald Trump being a political outsider, being removed from this lineage of political establishment and career politicians, and [having] actual career experience in the private sector is going to be a critical component in our next administration," she said.

But for other young female Republicans, supporting their party's nominee is still a tough pill to swallow.

"I still haven’t been convinced that he’s not a racist, misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic, — all these other things — candidate," said Taylor Oster, a 21-year-old Republican from North Dakota.

I don’t find him very respectful of women…I’d definitely like to hear a change in rhetoric.

Courtney Mattison, Virginia alternate delegate
Polling has repeatedly shown the businessman and GOP candidate struggling to win over young voters and women. The percentage of adults in both groups who have an unfavorable view of Trump hovered at about 70% in an early July, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll. And an earlier survey, conducted by Refinery29 and ABC News this spring, found that 63% of millennial women are scared of the now-nominee.

"[Millennials] just really couldn’t take the rhetoric of exclusionary policy, like building the walls and not letting Muslims in," said Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, who studies youth voter trends as director of Tisch College’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. "That seems to really have touched even some conservative voters to come out and vote against him."

And many female voters take issue with the numerous insults and sexist remarks he's made about women. Trump famously called Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly a "bimbo" and suggested that she had "blood coming out of her wherever" when she asked tough questions at a GOP debate last fall.

I still haven’t been convinced that he’s not a racist, misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic — all these other things — candidate.

Taylor Oster, Republican from North Dakota
"It’s really hard [for Trump] to craft a message that would sound remotely close to being pro-woman," Kawashima-Ginsberg said.

Trump isn't the only candidate in the race facing a potential millennial woman problem. Hillary Clinton lagged behind Sanders in the polls among that key demographic throughout the primary. More recently, polls show the former secretary of state suffering from negative ratings across the board.

But winning the votes of young women is especially crucial for the Republicans this year. Many analyses of the 2012 presidential race show that young voters cost the GOP the presidency when they turned out in droves to back Barack Obama in battleground states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. This year, female voters ages 18 to 35 are expected to represent 16% of the total electorate, according to the Pew Research Center.

An "autopsy" conducted by the Republican National Committee in the wake of the 2012 losses identified young voters and women as groups the party needs to do more to win over. Some GOP leaders are trying to learn from those lessons.

"For too long, Republican leaders haven’t been making our case to millennials," Alex Smith, national chairman of the College Republican National Committee, told delegates in a convention speech Monday. "There’s just too much old and not enough brand in the way we express our party’s values to the next generation of voters."
Photographed by Nathaniel Welch.
Leah Le'Vell, 21, is conducting outreach on college campuses on behalf of Trump and other GOP candidates.
Smith told Refinery29 that the group plans to send field representatives to college campuses and boost their ads on digital platforms like Pandora and Spotify to connect with new voters. She thinks more communication and strategic deployment of campaign surrogates like the nominee's oldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, could also help win over young, female voters.

Ivanka and Trump's other daughter, Tiffany Trump, are both millennials. The pair were given prime time speaking slots at the convention as Trump leaned on his family to share a softer, more personal side of him with the public.

"I think it’s all about direct communication," Smith told Refinery29. "I think if he goes to campuses and makes that case, I think that if he continues to put out content the way he does on Twitter, on Instagram, that he actually communicates with this generation, they’re going to get a better sense for him."

For too long, Republican leaders haven’t been making our case to millennials.

Alex Smith, College Republican National Committee chairperson
Le'Vell, who will be conducting outreach at historically Black colleges and universities this fall, believes young women's concerns about the future of the country will ultimately outweigh concerns about Trump's past comments.

"People are concerned about jobs, about student loans, and about the safety of our country, so I feel like those issues are just as important to millennial women as they are for all Americans," she said at a panel hosted by Refinery29 and The Atlantic at the RNC.

But some analysts and observers say it may be too late after months of a campaign that's been marked by exclusionary policies and brash tone.

"In terms of the messages he’s been sending out to young people, I don’t know that they can really turn those things back," Kawashima-Ginsberg said, adding, "Even if he switches gears toward the general youth electorate and suddenly starts paying attention to them to say we love young people, we are all about women, I don’t think it’s going to convince them."

People are concerned about jobs, about student loans, and about the safety of our country, so I feel like those issues are just as important to millennial women as they are for all Americans.

Leah Le'Vell, Trump surrogate
Efforts to win over young people, including moderate swing voters, could also be hindered by the positions on LGBTQ rights held by the party's official platform and vice presidential candidate Mike Pence.

Elise Jordan, a journalist and political speechwriter who worked for Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul's presidential campaign, said she worries the party is "backsliding" with the "tone and tenor of the discussion." Compounding that is Pence, who she called "not a youth-friendly choice."

"How much damage has he done to this point? How much has that really sunk in with millennial voters?" Jordan asked during the R29/Atlantic event.

Courtney Mattison, a 26-year-old alternate delegate from Virginia, said, while she intends to support the GOP nominee in November, Trump "has a way to go in earning my vote." And his comments have made it more difficult for Mattison to sell the GOP's message to her peers.

"I don’t find him very respectful of women," she said. "It’s really hard for me as someone who has spent my career in politics encouraging women to run for office to get behind someone like that. I’d definitely like to hear a change in rhetoric."
Photographed by Nathaniel Welch.
Claire Chiara, a college student running for the California state Legislature, came to Cleveland as a Trump delegate.
Even some Trump supporters want to hear a change in tone.

"I want to see him praise his wife in the same manner that she praised him, and have it having nothing to do with looks, but have everything to do with what she means to their family," Strutz, a 32-year-old delegate from Alaska, told Refinery29.

Still, Strutz believes Trump is well qualified to keep the country safe, which is her top priority in this election. She "absolutely" supports his proposals to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the United States. She also wants to see much stricter immigration regulations, though she doesn't think building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico is necessary.

"It’s ridiculous to be able to come in…without embracing the American culture," she said. "I don't think anyone should be allowed in America unless they are coming here to make it their country."

Chiara, meanwhile, likes that he's a moderate on social issues and strong fiscal policy.

"He’s all about results and performance," Chiara, who is running for state Legislature in California, said. "And hiring the best people for his jobs."

I want to see him praise his wife in the same manner that she praised him, and have it having nothing to do with looks, but have everything to do with what she means to their family.

Christy Strutz, Alaska delegate
She thinks complaints of sexism are a "red herring" created by the media.

"I’m a firm believer that Donald Trump is not a racist, not a sexist, not a misogynist," she said. "I’m a firm believer that he’s none of those things, and I feel that his priorities and his track record with his businesses provide an illustration of his belief that it doesn’t matter how you look like, it doesn’t matter what you do in your personal life. What matters is that you’re the best candidate for a role."

For other young GOP women, it's more about beating the other candidate than supporting their party's nominee in November.

Katie Frost originally wanted to see a brokered convention that could lead to someone else being the nominee. But now, with just over 100 days to go until the election, she's changed her mind.

"I’m not for Trump, but I’m #NeverHillary," the Georgia delegate told Refinery29. "So, if he’s the way to keep her out of the White House, then so be it."

Refinery29's Kaelyn Forde contributed to this report.

Refinery29’s News team is on the ground covering the Republican National Convention and the Democratic National Convention. Follow along @R29News and check out our full coverage of the 2016 race here.

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