by Meredith Turtis – Glamour
"Maybe that’s the sort of the problem—that they didn’t see this conversation as needing to happen. But it absolutely does. You can’t hide from people.”
That's what Sabrina Schaeffer, executive director of conservative organization Independent Women's Forum, said when I mentioned Mitt Romney's campaign had declined an interview with Glamour for our November 2012 issue. She wasn't surprised; poor communication is near the top of her list of how conservatives are alienating women. Yesterday, I spoke to Schaeffer about the gun violence hearings in the Senate (at which one of their own members, Gayle Trotter, testified), and what the GOP needs to do to breathe new life into currently-deflated conservatives now and for 2016. Oh, and we even talked about Hillary Clinton.
GLAMOUR: Meetings happened last week in the GOP in which Governor Jindal, Congressman Ryan, and several other Republican leaders were really soul-searching, especially on the heels of the election setback, and looking to reevaluate what being a Republican means in 2013 and beyond. What is your take on it? Does the party really need to rebrand itself completely? Is it a new take on the message itself or is it reconfiguring what is actually the content of the policies and positions that the Republicans are trying to push through?
SABRINA SCHAEFFER: I think it’s a combination. We had a panel on this a couple weeks ago, and I offered four suggestions that Republicans, and by extension conservatives, can do to close that gender gap, which at this point is a chasm. It’s concerning, not because one party is winning over another, but because of the policies that this will mean and because we’re encouraging more women to be wards of the state, and we’re culture of dependency that’s unhealthy for America. A few of the things that I would suggest to Republicans would be, ‘If you’ve got it, flaunt it.’ I found it really upsetting to look at the number of fiscally conservative women in the House of Representatives—less in the Senate—that the GOP really wasn’t relying on. Now I’m very excited to see Kathy McMorris Rodgers in the leadership. It was a step in the right direction, and I hope we see her next to Boehner every single day. The fact is Republicans have this slate of strong, talented, fiscally conservative female lawmakers, and in their life before Washington, many of them were physicians or accountants or business owners, and I see them as sort of ambassadors to a public that has not gotten the right message, and they’re poised to communicate that liberty is not a war on women.
My second feeling is—and it’s like when you said that Romney wouldn’t do the interview with Glamour–you have to talk to women, especially single women. We know this. I think that conservatives have tended to shy away from playing gender politics. I applaud them for this on one hand, but in this effort to not pander to women, they seem to have forgotten that women exist. We saw the story in the election that there was such a level of uncomfort [sic] when talking about things like workplace regulations…but the reality is you need to explain why this legislation is bad, why things like the Paycheck Fairness Act would kill jobs and cause people to be remunerated. You can’t just skirt around the issue and hope it goes away. Then it looks like you’re just not tackling it at all.
One thing that comes to mind also is that both parties are so focused on talking to women about so-called “women’s issues” that they forget about the real issues facing women… If I had to identify the key issue facing women this election, it wasn’t birth control, it was energy policy. I have three young children, and I’m sure I’m like a lot of moms who are primarily responsible for shuttling them around, and paying the bills and doing the laundry, and I’m acutely aware of the cost of milk and of our electricity. These are ways that lawmakers can speak to women that don’t have to do anything with their so-called “lady parts.” I would think that’s a much more effective path to winning women’s voters.
GLAMOUR: Regarding abortion rights, a lot of GOP leaders and pundits have said, ‘Let’s not talk about it again’ for fear it’ll put them in a hole again, yet, people are still talking about it. What’s your feeling on that? Is it still a conversation that Republicans should be having, or should people be turning the page on it?
SABRINA SCHAEFFER: It puts IWF in an interesting place, and sets us apart from other organizations, because we don’t talk about abortion and gay marriage and some of those social issues that are in many ways that are very alienating to women… So many people are so discouraged when you have people on the fringe saying comments that are obviously offensive, saying things about “legitimate rape”. I don’t know what inspires anybody to say words like that. So yes, on one hand, part of me wishes that issue would just go away, but I’m sure I’m in the minority.
GLAMOUR: It’s not going to just go away.
SABRINA SCHAEFFER: I think we have to find a better way of talking about it, realistically. The majority of the country falls somewhere in between being pro-life and pro-choice. They believe in some kind of reasonable freedoms and reasonable restrictions. This shouldn’t be the issue that decides all other issues.
GLAMOUR: But what does that mean, as a conservative woman, to be “reasonable” to the issue? Because if people are going to vote on social issues and there is such a large group of women who are fiscally conservative who believe very much along the lines of what you’re talking about economically but who, when it comes down to it, do take into consideration their “lady parts”—if you’re going to have a conversation about reaching women to bring them back to the conservative vote, you are going to have to address that. I wonder what that reasonable conversation looks like.
SABRINA SCHAEFFER: You do and you don’t. In the 2010 midterm elections, it seemed as if the social issues were completely dormant. We were talking entirely about the economy. We were able to completely close the gender gap for the first time in 20 years, so it seems interesting to me that in a presidential year when there’s much more partisan strife, much more media attention, the issue of abortion gets put out there front and center. I don’t think when you look at what people’s priorities are and when you look at public polling, we’re finding that abortion continues to be at the bottom. This is not the driving issue. You know, economic growth, job creation, debt, and deficit, or budget—these are the issues that people are thinking about. The way that women lawmakers can be useful is they can keep the conversation back on energy policy back on health care and the economy and away from this.
GLAMOUR: Speaking of women lawmakers, when looking towards 2016, besides Hillary Clinton, the Democrats have a whole bunch of white guys, yet the Republicans have a really interesting group of people coming up. There’s Kelly Ayotte, Susana Martinez, Nikki Haley, so the future of the party looks very interesting. I wonder what you have to say about the possibility of any of those women running, and the future of your party in the hands of women.
SABRINA SCHAEFFER: I definitely think that we have a lot of women that we can look at now… I just hope that the establishment is willing to make these women the face of conservative and Republican politics.
GLAMOUR: And what do you think about Condoleezza Rice maybe in 2016?
SABRINA SCHAEFFER: Oh, jeez, I haven’t even focused that far ahead. I’m in Virigina so I’m thinking about the gubernatorial election coming up, but, you know, I think Condoleezza Rice is a fascinating woman and obviously a woman of many talents. I think she has a lot of supporters and also a lot of people who don’t always agree with everything, but such is the life of a public figure. I think it’s a little early to make any grand conclusions.
GLAMOUR: Switching gears to today, Gayle Trotter, Senior Fellow at the IWF, testified in front of Congress pro-Second Amendment, anti-gun control side of the argument.
[Here’s an excerpt of Trotter’s testimony from January 30, 2012 in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence:
In lieu of empty gestures, we should address gun violence based on what works. Guns make women safer. The Supreme Court has recognized that lawful self-defense is a central component of the Second Amendment’s guarantee of the right to keep and bear arms. For women, the ability to arm ourselves for our protection is even more consequential than for men because guns are the great equalizer in a violent confrontation. As a result, we preserve meaningful protection for women by safeguarding our Second Amendment rights. Every woman deserves a fighting chance.]
GLAMOUR: Your membership is obviously conservative. Are they unequivocally pro-no new gun regulations after Newtown?
SABRINA SCHAEFFER: Broadly, the women across our staff are married with children, and many have young children, so on one hand when the Newtown tragedy happened, it was so jarring and so horrifying to so many of us who have children the same age, that in a way it sort of paralyzes you. You don’t know what needs to be done… But at the same time we have many women who recognize that because we’re women and because we’re moms that in many ways we have more at stake in preserving the Second Amendment than others… There’s definitely an impulse among many of us that want guns and this whole conversation about gun violence to just away because it makes us uncomfortable. I think one of the ways Gayle and [Senior Fellow] Anna Rittgers on our staff have been very helpful is that they’re trying to make the point that limiting the right of individuals to own firearms is very concerning because it continues this trend of empowering the government and disempowering the people. That’s something that is worrisome and something that we should be aware of. Now, I’m sure there are some ways that we should find some common ground, but I think we need to be careful we’re not just looking for a band-aid solution that’s just going to feel good, but that does not actually make us any safer.
GLAMOUR: When you step back from your members, many of them mothers, and look at Republican women on the whole, many of whom include single women, do you think that that sentiment is the case? Polls show there’s not necessarily Republican unity across the board on whether measure should be changing on gun control.
SABRINA SCHAEFFER: This is one of those issues that I just wish would personally go away. Even though I married a man who is from Ohio and on our first date he offer to take me to discharge some firearms and I didn’t even know what that meant and I was like, “Can we just go get a drink?”, I think I am one of those people who is not a gun-lover but who is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. My understanding is that an increasing number of women are favoring that position… From the numbers I have seen, there is some ambivalence over reigning in gun laws because a lot of people realize these are actually keeping guns out of the hands of [law-abiding citizens].
GLAMOUR: Where do your values of being a Republican start and where do your inherent instincts of being a woman begin? Are they inextricable and you see them as one, or are there times when you’re a woman with no political views?
SABRINA SCHAEFFER: I’m not a partisan. Obviously there are two parties and you have to choose one. I worked early on in Washington for [UN] Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, and I remember her saying to me, You have to choose one party, and you have to know the issues that are most important to you, and you have to focus on those, and neither party—they’re big tents—are going to represent every single one your values. I’m very much in that camp. I’m not a partisan in the way that many people are. I don’t usually think of myself as a Republican or woman. I just want to foster a society that allows for the greatest amount of freedom or choice, and that’s the best thing we can do for women and their families, and that’s the best way ensure the most vulnerable in societies are protected.
GLAMOUR: I’d love to ask you about Hillary Clinton as her term is concluding now as John Kerry was just confirmed yesterday. How do view her tenure as Secretary of State?
SABRINA SCHAEFFER: That’s not one I’ve given a whole lot of thought to. I didn’t have any serious objections to her during her time. She seems like someone who probably followed the president’s wishes fairly well. If there was one time when I really came out in favor of Hillary Clinton was when she commented on theAnne-Marie Slaughter [“Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”] article. I thought that was a moment where I remember thinking, I don’t often see eye-to-eye with Hillary Clinton on policy, but I remember thinking that her comment on the Atlantic story [in Marie Claire] was great, and I applauded her for that. When she said how she can’t stand whining, I thought that was great. I kind of appreciated her directness.
GLAMOUR: What do you think she has brought forth for women that is relatable across conservative or liberal lines?
SABRINA SCHAEFFER: This idea that work-life balance is one that there should be more common ground on and that we should be able to have a more direct conversation about. I thought that she was helpful in that regard… You can’t be a high-level ambassador and be at the PTA meetings. There’s a point at which it’s kind of farcical. If she’s helpful to women in sorting out some of those conversations, she’s had an impact.
GLAMOUR: In her four-year [term], she’s become less polarizing. As someone who really knows conservative women, how do you characterize the conservative women’s response and how that’s changed towards her in that four-year period?
SABRINA SCHAEFFER: I suspect if she were in a different position, it wouldn’t have changed. Part of this is the function of her role as Secretary of State, and that role is supposed to be very non-offensive. You’re supposed to be getting along with everyone, so it’s easy to be seen as non-polarizing. I think her run for president in 2008 actually may have also sort of gained her some favor with women in general, including conservative women. I think that running for office as a woman poses unique challenges. I think that Hillary Clinton at times was terribly treated, especially by men on the left… I think that there’s a level of sympathy that women have for that. And certainly not far from anyone’s conversation about Hillary Clinton, it’s hard not to feel some slight bit of sympathy for what she’s gone through with her husband in the public eye, but all that being said, there are choices that we all make and if you run for public office, that’s a choice that you make.
GLAMOUR: My last question for you is if you were to take the reigns of the GOP going forward steering them in the direction from 2013 towards the midterm elections, what would be the main change that you would make?
SABRINA SCHAEFFER: I think they need to think about the issue of fairness. We know that fairness is the critical lens through which so many Americans judge policies and candidates. We know from research that women especially place a high importance on the issue of fairness, and even more specifically is how do they define the issue of fairness: it’s equality of outcomes [or as] equality of opportunity. In research that IWF conducted, the greater moral [weight] that a woman placed on fair outcomes, the more likely she is to support progressive policy prescriptions. I think that Republicans don’t simply need to tweak their message, they need to really rethink the way they’re talking about everything.
GLAMOUR: And what does that look like?
SABRINA SCHAEFFER: I think there has to be a real concerted effort to think about how they’re talking to women, especially, in terms of fairness, that they don’t want the most vulnerable in our society to simply fall by the wayside. We are dealing with a growing number of unmarried women with children. How do you communicate to them that if they lose their jobs, that government shouldn’t be their fallback? How do you explain to them that you want them to have the most choices in their health care, and that when their health care is tied to their employment that they’re at greater risk than when they own their own health savings account, for instance? It’s going to require a lot of work, but I think this is where they should be focusing their attention. I think we need to emphasize a strong safety net is what we believe in, and that some of the most compassionate solution is providing more Americans with more freedom and opportunity.