Republicans Teaching Candidates How To Talk To Women
After the negative blowback that the GOP suffered in 2012 when first Todd Akin and then Richard Mourdock made comments about rape and abortion that were roundly condemned, as well as other comments that other candidates and conservative commentators have made over the years that were widely seen as offensive to women, the GOP is trying to make sure that they don’t have those same problems next year:
The National Republican Congressional Committee wants to make sure there are no Todd Akin-style gaffes next year, so it’s meeting with top aides of sitting Republicans to teach them what to say — or not to say — on the trail, especially when their boss is running against a woman.
Speaker John Boehner is serious, too. His own top aides met recently with Republican staff to discuss how lawmakers should talk to female constituents.
“Let me put it this way, some of these guys have a lot to learn,” said a Republican staffer who attended the session in Boehner’s office.
There have been “multiple sessions” with the NRCC where aides to incumbents were schooled in “messaging against women opponents,” one GOP aide said.
While GOP party leaders have talked repeatedly of trying to “rebrand” the party after the 2012 election losses, the latest effort shows they’re not entirely confident the job is done.
So they’re getting out in front of the next campaign season, heading off gaffes before they’re ever uttered and risk repeating the 2012 season, when a handful of comments let Democrats paint the entire Republican Party as anti-woman.
Boehner urged his colleagues Thursday in response to this POLITICO story to “be a little more sensitive” when running against women.
“Some of our members just aren’t as sensitive as they ought to be,” Boehner said.
Boehner (R-Ohio) said bluntly that “when you look around the Congress, there are a lot more females in the Democrat caucus than there are in the Republican caucus.”has to
Republicans are trying to avoid a 2012 repeat. Akin dropped the phrase “legitimate rape” during the 2012 Missouri Senate race, costing himself a good shot at winning his own race and touching off Democratic charges of a GOP “War on Women” that dogged Republicans in campaigns across the country.
In the 2014 cycle, there will be at least 10 races where House GOP male incumbents face Democratic women challengers. More races could crop up as the cycle unfolds.
Some of the highest profile fights will take place in states like New York, Illinois, Florida and Virginia — the last where GOP gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli was defeated recently due in part to being perceived as anti-woman.
Individual Republicans have continued to give Democrats plenty of ammunition about being insensitive to women’s issues. From Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) talking about rape and pregnancy at a Judiciary Committee hearing earlier this year, to House Republicans passing a 20-week abortion ban in June, to Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) blaming military sexual assault on “hormones,” there have been repeated instances where GOP lawmakers have come off as tone-deaf to female voters.
The GOP’s problems with female voters aren’t confined to verbal gaffes and stupid comments by candidates and campaign advisers. As both the 2012 campaign and the recently concluded Governor’s race in Virginia revealed starkly, the biggest problem that the party has with female voters has to do with its positions on issues, including not just social issues like abortion and access to contraceptives but also economic issues and domestic policy issues like education. While both pre-election and exit polling seem to indicate that the party’s problems are more severe among young, single women than among married women with children, one has to imagine that even that bit of reassuring news for the GOP will start to disappear as those single women get married and have children of their own. More likely than not, the GOP will start to experience the same large gender gap with this younger cohort of married women that they are now experiencing with them when they’re single. The important point, though, is that the GOP’s problems with women aren’t just about a few candidates making stupid comments about rape and abortion, although it certainly doesn’t help. As with their problems with young voters, Latinos, and others, it’s also about the positions the party has taken on issues important to those voters. Until that changes in some way, then it’s only going to be candidates like Chris Christie who will be able to break through and attract female voters.
There is another way that the GOP could make itself more attractive to female voters, of course, and that would be to find a way to stop being seen a party almost exclusively made up of white male candidates:
There are currently 78 female lawmakers in the House; 59 of them are Democrats. The partisan gender gap is similar in the Senate, where of the record 20 female senators currently serving in the 113th Congress, 16 are Democrats versus only four Republicans.
Yet Republicans insist they aren’t ceding the ground to Democrats when it comes to trying to attract female candidates.
“We’re doing the same thing against them,” said National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden of Oregon. “We may have more women challengers now than we did in the last cycle. … We’ve got some great women candidates and it’s been a focus of ours too.” Walden specifically named Mia Love in Utah and Martha McSally in Arizona, both of whom could end up running against male Democratic incumbents.
Like other Republicans, Walden said party leaders have addressed messaging against female challengers with their own incumbents.
“You need to be very careful in how you approach any group and what you say,” Walden said when asked about House GOP leadership efforts to find female candidates. “That’s just Politics 101.”
In July, the NRCC unveiled Project GROW, which stands for Growing Republican Opportunities for Women. There have been several GROW outreach and recruitment events since that time, say GOP officials. “Recruiting women candidates is a top priority of the NRCC this cycle and we’ve had tremendous support from our women members of congress through our Project Grow initiative,” said Liesl Hickey, NRCC executive director.
Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) said she is working to try to recruit more Republican women to run for Congress, pointing out that only 19 of the 231 House GOP members are women.
“It’s a failure and one that absolutely must be addressed,” Wagner acknowledged.
She said women are pivotal to future elections since they make up the majority of potential voters, with the trend increasing in recent years.
“We’re not a coalition. We’re 54 percent of the electorate. We rule,” Wagner said. “We decide the elections going forward. We decide a lot of things.’
Conservatives reading this article will be quick to point out the existence of Governors such as Nikki Haley and Susanna Martinez, Lt. Governor’s such as Kim Guadango (who would become Governor of New Jersey if Chris Christie steps aside before his term is up as part of a Presidential bid), and Senators such as Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. These are all good examples of the kind of fresh blood that the party arguably needs at this point to make up for the negative reputation it has among female voters, but the fact that I could name those four women off the top of my head is an indication of just how rare high profile women are in the GOP. If the GOP wants to make itself seem more open to women voters, then it needs to do something about candidate recruitment so that Republican women in office is not seen as such an oddity that one is able to name all of the female GOP lawmakers out there. Of course, that also means choose quality female candidates. The party does itself no good when it puts forward candidates like Sarah Palin, Christine O’Donnell, Sharron Angle, and Michele Bachmann who are, in the end, just as flaky and out of touch as their Republican male counterparts.
Will the current GOP effort to make sure they don’t have a repeat of the Akin and Mourdock fiascoes succeed? It’s too early to tell obviously, but if they’re able to do a better job at candidate selection and recruitment then they just might succeed in that regard. Those two men made mistakes that were so widely covered that any candidate with a brain should have learned immediately what not to say while their running for office. As noted, however, not saying stupid things is only part of the solution to the GOP’s “female problem,” they’ve also got to be more open to candidates who hold positions that are actually going to attract female voters or at least not turn them away in the manner that Ken Cuccinelli did here in Virginia, and they’ll have to do a much better job of attracting good female candidates for office. In the end, given that we’re talking about the gender that actually tends to vote at a higher percentage in the average election, these are the only smart things to do.