After losing women voters on Nov. 6, Republicans promised to change how they reach out to the female electorate. One month in, it’s hard to see any evidence of a change in tone or substance when it comes to the GOP and women’s issues, however.
That could be a real problem. A month ago, exit polls showed President Obama won the female vote by double-digits, compounding losses Republicans suffered in red state Senate races after their nominees turned 2012 into The Year Of The Rape Gaffe.
In the weeks following the election, some Republicans have promised a change order to show women the GOP is for them. (Some Republicans have noted that Romney actually won white women as evidence that the party doesn’t have a problem with women, but as Slate noted last week, “Romney’s performance among white women was 6 points worse than his performance among white men.”) Notably, the focus among reformers has been on tone, rather than substance: big name Republicans have said they don’t need to budge on the party’s opposition to abortion rights to win over women. What the party does need to do, they say, is be more careful with its words.
“We don’t need to pander or change our principles, but at the same time, we can be respectful,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal told Fox on Nov. 18.
Changing tone when it comes to women has proven easier for the GOP to talk about than to do, based on the month since Election Day. Some examples of top Republicans and conservative activists stumbling with women over the past month.
• Under Duress, House Republicans Find A Committee A Woman Can Chair
Republicans, Democrats and women’s rights advocates publicly criticized the House leadership after it failed to select a single woman to lead one of Congress’ so-called major committees. This followed a leadership battle where the GOP vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan (WI), publicly supported a conservative purist over the highest-ranking woman in the House. (Ryan’s candidate lost.)
After public prodding from female Republican members, House leaders finally selected Rep. Candice Miller (MI) to lead the administration committee. Democrats and women’s groups dismissed the pick as “tokenism.”
The committee chair episode was overshadowed by the debt talks taking up virtually all the headline space in Washington since Election Day. But Democrats and women’s groups say it’s a story they’ll return to when the 2014 campaigns begin.
• The War On Sandra Fluke Continues
It’s been three-quarters of a year and a presidential election since Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke rose to national fame after being denounced by conservative commentators as a “slut” and “prostitute.” But while campaigns may end, Fluke bashing is still going strong as ever.
This week, Fluke was nominated as a contender for Time’s Person of the Year, prompting another outpouring of bile on the right over an accolade she never asked to receive.
“JFK said, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you,’ and now we’ve got Sandra Fluke saying, ‘My country can buy me birth control for three years of law school at Georgetown,” radio host Lars Larson said on Fox News, saying an ordinary person couldn’t possibly spend “80 to 100 dollars a month on birth control.” He also inaccurately suggested Fluke rose to fame by demanding free taxpayer-funded contraception, a popular myth among her critics.
Dennis Miller (also on Fox) called her “Moan of Arc.” And Rush Limbaugh said he blamed himself for raising her profile with his abusive tirades earlier in the year. The blogger Gateway Pundit wrote the Person of the Year nomination “will put her up there with Adolf Hitler and Yasser Arafat.”
It wasn’t just the magazine nod, however. Conservative blogs leapt on news that Fluke was auctioning off a one-hour strategy session with activists to raise money for a non-profit to launch yet another round of trolling in posts like “Sandra Fluke Charges By The Hour” at the National Review. The leading bidders for her time appear to be editors at The Daily Caller and Breitbart, two news sites whose writers have had special contempt for her.
Fluke has perhaps opened the door to partisan attacks as she’s emerged as a Democratic activist and potential political candidate. But single women were one of the GOP’s biggest weak points in 2012, and the intensity the hatred for Fluke on the right has already spilled over into language that could alienate all women.
• The “Gifts” Thing
Romney helped trip up the GOP with women in the days after the election when said female voters cast their ballots for Democrats because Obama gave them “gifts” like the aforementioned contraception coverage mandate that made Fluke into a household name.
Republicans quickly distanced themselves from the “gifts” remark as well the man who said it, the GOP’s last pick for president. But Romney’s line served as a handy reminder of the party’s tone problem with women, firing up opposition among women’s groups once again.