"We have to quit sitting back and taking it on the chin. I think we have to play offense on this.”Two conservative groups did a study about the attitudes of women voters toward the Republican Party. As reported to Politico, the results were thoroughly unsurprising: the study, which combined both focus groups and quantitative surveys, found that in general, women felt that the Republican Party lacked compassion and was "stuck in the past." The same study showed that among women, Democrats have massive advantages in perceptions of who cares about making health care more affordable, who cares about women's interests, and who tolerates the lifestyles of others.
--Katie Packer Gage, Republican strategist
It's not a pretty picture for the Republican Party: while they may skate by in 2014 on the basis of it being a lower-turnout and more Republican-friendly midterm election, they will undoubtedly face significant trouble in 2016, especially with the possibility looming of facing off against a very popular figure in Hillary Clinton who will motivate women to vote—and not just because of her gender, but because of her actual stance on issues important to women. So while it's conceivable that Republicans could make gains this year despite the gender gap, they will almost certainly lose the White House for a third straight time absent some sort of significant change.
And what sort of change do they think they need? According to some Republican strategists, it's to "go on offense" on women's issues. More below the fold.
A skeptical person might say that the gender gap exists in its current form precisely because Republicans have been on the offensive so much as it is. After all, it's not so much that the conservative movement is stuck in the past; it's more that they've been doing everything they can to drag us kicking and screaming back there. The national movement toward targeted regulation of abortion providers seeks to return the country to an era before Roe, and the partisan breakdown of reaction to the Hobby Lobby case has put in stark relief which movement believes that we should expand access to contraception, and which movement believes that it's still a topic of shame and controversy. And we haven't even started talking about Republican opposition to equal pay legislation or an Equal Rights Amendment.
On the specific issues of wages and discrimination that would allow women to get a fairer shake in the workplace, Republicans are preventing progress. Meanwhile, on key aspects of reproductive justice, Republicans are seeking to take the country back to the era of back-alley coathanger abortions. And yet they say their best options to combat their image issues is to "play offense." But what type of offense does the report actually suggest? Instead of actual policy substance, the recommendations consist entirely of spinning, deflecting, and distracting from the actual issues:
“Republicans who openly deny the legitimacy of the issue will be seen as out of touch with women’s life experiences,” the report warned, hinting at GOP opposition to pay-equity legislation. It’s the policy item independents and Democrats believe will help women the most.Got that? Women feel that equal-pay laws are important to their ability to make it economically in the modern world. But instead of dropping their opposition to such laws, Republicans will instead tell women that they should blame the dependency created by the social safety net for their problems, instead of the fact that the government allows their (mostly) male bosses to pay them less money than their male co-workers receive for the same services. The Republican Party's revolutionary new message the issue boils down to, "equal pay laws? what? hey, look at those poor people getting a handout they don't deserve!" It's hard to know if that qualifies as going on offense, or seeking to simply change the game that's being played.
The groups suggest a three-pronged approach to turning around their relationship with women. First, they suggest the GOP “neutralize the Democrats’” attack that Republicans don’t support fairness for women. They suggest Republican lawmakers criticize Democrats for “growing government programs that encourage dependency rather than opportunities to get ahead.”
The Republican response to women's concerns over abortion policy is no better:
Second, the groups suggest Republicans “deal honestly with any disagreement on abortion, then move to other issues.” And third, “pursue policy innovations that inspire women voters to give the GOP a ‘fresh look.’” The report suggests lawmakers and candidates inject “unexpected” GOP policy proposals into the debate as a way to sway female voters. Suggestions include ways to improve job-training programs...A Republican candidate using this tactic with a female voter might create an interesting conversation. It might go something like, "well, yes, I do want to eliminate all the abortion clinics in your state and force women into dangerous back alleys where they could bleed to death, but on the bright side, how about allowing Medicare to pay for home health services? We can agree on that one, right?"
This is the Republican Party's version of going on offense to combat their dragging poll numbers among women and on women's issues: ignore women's top economic issues, blame the poor, and hope they can agree to disagree on aspects of reproductive justice without paying an electoral price for the extreme tactics the conservative movement has used across the country. If this is the best the conservative movement has when it comes to addressing the gender gap, 2016 will indeed be an enjoyable year for Democrats.