The Femo: Female perspectives on the GOP’S “women problem”
Amid internal and external criticism of the Republican Party’s strained relationship with American women, House Republicans elected Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA.) to head the Republican Conference. McMorris Rodgers thus occupies the 4th top leadership position amongst House Republicans.
It is speculated that the election of McMorris Rodgers is a strategic move by the Republican Party to begin reshaping its relationship with female voters. In this year’s election, a majority of women favored President Barack Obama, who won 55 percent of the female vote and 67 percent of the single woman vote.
This outcome should not come as a surprise, given former candidate Mitt Romney’s unclear views on abortion exceptions, refusal to address the issue of equal pay, and repeated vows to defund Planned Parenthood. Exit polls provided hard evidence that Romney’s actions during the campaign season effectively alienated female voters. Yet Romney was not the only candidate who lost female support for the GOP. The inaccurate and ignorant comments of extremist Republicans such as Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock lost them their own congressional races and painted the GOP as backwards and extreme.
In the aftermath of a disappointing election for the Republican Party, GOP members and strategists are proposing solutions to what conservative author and columnist Peggy Noonan recently called its “woman problem.” The woman problem debate is part of broader internal turmoil within the GOP, whose conservative and moderate wings continue to disagree about the reasons behind staggering losses amongst certain sectors of the population, such as women, Latinos, and young voters.
In particular, female members of the GOP have recently been speaking out to mainstream media outlets about the possible reasons for which their party failed to secure a majority in the Senate and produce a popular president. Prominent female Republicans such as Rep. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Texas) have spoken out against right-wing extremists, citing that “[the Republican Party] had candidates that said some very stupid things.”
Karen Hughes, former President George W. Bush’s former advisor, put it even more plainly, stating, “If another Republican man says anything about rape other than it is a horrific, violent crime, I want to personally cut out his tongue.” Widespread GOP frustration with the comments of extreme conservative Republicans has been a common theme in this post-election period. According to Politico, this frustration may lead to a stricter monitoring of the conservative wing’s rhetoric to avoid backlash resulting from candidates like Akin and Mourdock, although their radical ideology may remain beneath the surface.
Other female GOP members claim that the party’s refusal to address women’s issues as legitimate and important social and economic issues ultimately hurt GOP candidates. According to the president of Concerned Women for America, Penny Nance, the party’s avoidance of women’s issues let the Democratic Party dominate the national discourse about these issues to their benefit. Indeed, the GOP’s strategy to cast women’s issues as a distraction from more important topics such as the economy and financial crisis made them seem aloof and out of touch with women voters.
As the Republican Party attempts to rebuild itself after their 2012 losses, it remains to be seen how they will seek to regain the support of American women. While it seems unlikely that the party will double back to its former support of family planning services and access to reproductive health care, the election of women such as McMorris Rodgers into more prominent leadership positions may be the first step in putting women back into the conversation and prioritizing issues the GOP once deemed distractions.
photo of U.S. Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) by the US Embassy Kabul Afghanistan: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kabulpublicdiplomacy/5699215989/