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Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Republicans admit they have a women problem

Suffragettes carry banner reading 'No self respecting woman should wish or work for the success of a party that ignores her sex. Susan B. Anthony, 1872'
National Journal: When the House Judiciary Committee passed a late-term abortion ban in June, Republican leaders scrambled to find a female, media-savvy lawmaker to bring the legislation to the floor. Their biggest problem: Not a single Republican woman was represented among the committee’s 23 Republican members. They eventually settled on Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, who isn’t on the Judiciary Committee.

The episode underscored a growing problem that is worrying Republicans: Women are badly underrepresented within their party in the Congress. Only 8 percent of House Republicans are women, and there are only four female Republican senators. Of the long list of potential 2016 GOP presidential contenders, there’s not a single woman.

Party leaders want to close the gender gap, but worry that it will be difficult with very few female leaders in Congress to handle outreach.

"It’s not good enough. It’s not. And it’s not reflective of the electorate," said Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., one of just three Republican women in the freshman class of 2012, who were sworn into the House alongside 17 female Democratic colleagues. “We have a message I think that reaches women and we need to make sure that we’re actively and aggressively telling that story. And there’s no better way to do it than being a woman who talks about it."

Wagner argues that women bring an important perspective on some of the biggest issues the country is currently dealing with, such as family budgets, health care, entitlements, and energy policy—all things women tend to handle in their households. “We’re the ones filling the minivan up," she said.
The first step in solving a problem is admitting you have one. For the Republican Party, the first step also seems to be the final one. The GOP faces the same problem here as they do with the rest of their rebranding efforts — they aren’t at all interested in listening. An authoritarian party to the core, they seem to believe they don’t have to listen to women’s concerns. Instead, they try to dictate to women what concerns women have.

Another rookie mistake, [Republican pollster Kellyanne] Conway said, is focusing too much on “women’s issues," if such a thing exists. Democratic women, she said, put too much of an emphasis on abortion, while Republican women have the opportunity to take a broader view. “There are very few Democratic women who can begin or finish a sentence without mentioning a ‘woman’s right to choose,’ " Conway said, noting that she’s actually had her researchers go through hours of remarks by Democratic members to find a single woman who failed to mention abortion. They haven’t found one yet. “There is a tremendous opening for the ‘whole women,’ if you will, to step up and run for office as a Republican…. What do you do every week gals, do you fill up the gas tank or do you have an abortion?" she said.
Yeah, I seriously doubt that she couldn’t find any Democratic woman who’s ever talked about anything other than abortion. And taking a “there’s no such thing as women’s issues" line doesn’t strike me as the best way to win women voters. But my biggest takeaway here is that she’s basically telling women, “You don’t care about abortion." Which, if your party is currently engaged in trying to eliminate abortion, you really have to hope is true.

As it is with minority outreach, the Republican message to the target voters here is “We don’t have to change, you do." I doubt women will find that especially compelling. As Taylor Marsh points out in a post about this outreach project, this is all about Hillary 2016. She writes that Republicans “don’t have one single viable female contender to take on Hillary Rodham Clinton, with the congressional bench slim compared to the Democratic women waiting in the wings: Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar and Kirsten Gillibrand." And about that “whole woman" idea that looks beyond the right to choose:

[T]he Republican war against entitlements, specifically Social Security, hurts females more than any other group. There isn’t a bigger champion for women’s economic rights than Hillary, with the Republican version having only a platform of “reforming” entitlements so that older women have a financial burden they can’t meet as they age.
If Republicans want to win with women, they’re going to have to change. Swinging a watch in front of female voters and saying, “You are getting sleepy and you don’t care about no ‘bortions," just isn’t going to cut it.

[photo via johnscotthaydon]

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