MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — Independent-minded voters in politically important New Hampshire challenged Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump on Monday over his “divisive” style and his attitude toward women.
Trump appeared at a rare gathering that brought together both Republican and Democratic presidential candidates and faced questions from skeptical audience members after touting his business record to the crowd. It was a far cry from Trump’s usual events, which often feature thousands of enthusiastic fans cheering him on.
“Prove me wrong, but I don’t think you’re a friend to women,” said one woman in the crowd of more than 1,000. She asked whether, as president, he would support paying women and men equally. Then, apparently referring to reproductive rights, she asked, “Do I get to choose what I do with my body?”
He replied that she’d get paid the same if she does her job as well as a man, and that he is “pro-life.”
“I respect women, and I’m going to take care of women,” he said.
The billionaire businessman was one of eight candidates who participated in the daylong convention hosted by No Labels. The group was created after the 2010 midterm elections and is pushing for the candidates to agree on job creation, a balanced federal budget, securing Medicare and Social Security and energy independence.
When another questioner asked whether Trump’s divisive language undermines his ability to solve problems, the candidate replied, “I went to Ivy League schools, I know what’s divisive and what’s not divisive.” He added that when the field of candidates narrows, “you’re going to see I’m going to be much less divisive.”
The group’s co-chairs, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, described Monday’s convention in the early-voting state as “speed dating” between presidential candidates and New Hampshire’s independent voters, who can cast ballots in either the Republican or Democratic primaries.
“There’s never before been a day like this, and never before has America needed something like this,” Lieberman said.
Keeping with that theme, most of the candidates stressed the benefits of compromise and touted their bipartisan accomplishments.
“Let’s treat each other civilly, let’s treat each other respectfully and let’s not try to demonize people who may have disagreements with us,” said Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who, like the other Democrats preparing for their first debate on Tuesday, spoke via streamed video.
Democratic presidential hopeful Martin O’Malley said the nation needs not just new leadership, but a new way of governing that invites people of all parties to “return to the table of democracy.”
Speaking via video link from Baltimore, the former Maryland governor said he achieved results in lowering crime and improving education by employing a “circle of collaboration” focused on what works, and would take the same approach in tackling income inequality and other national problems as president.
“We didn’t get things done by running to our labeled corners, we invited one another to come with ideas. This is a new way of leadership that people are demanding,” he said.
Though the event was touted as a gathering of New Hampshire’s independent, undecided voters, the audience included scores of young people and college students bused in from across the country. Among those who asked questions were a Republican state representative who has endorsed Trump and “Miss America’s Outstanding Teen.”
Daniel Sullivan, who is not registered with a party but expects to vote for the eventual Democratic nominee, traveled from Chelsea, Massachusetts, to attend the event. He said he was inspired by what he’d heard.
“I believe intently in the art of compromise, an art that’s been largely lost, I think, in the modern political climate,” said Sullivan, 35, who works for a private foundation.
Dwight Barclay, 66, a New Hampshire independent voter, said he had never attended a political gathering before but liked the sound of a day devoted to putting problem-solving above politics. He had been leaning toward Ben Carson, but is turned off by Carson’s recent comments about religion and remains undecided.
After hearing several speakers Monday, he said O’Malley seemed like a “solid person” who’s very fluent about the issues and who gets things done, but he liked Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham’s sense of humor and smarts.