By Dick Polman
This weekend, we heard the most priceless clarification ever issued by a presidential candidate. Ever. The Republican front-runner, seeking to quell Bloodgate, insisted that he was referring only to the female questioner’s nose, not to her vagina.
As freak shows go, this one is historic. Sometimes you just want to laugh until the blood runs out of wherever.
But you’d be wrong to think that the GOP’s women woes begin and end with Donald Trump. His misogynistic rants about Megyn Kelly have garnered the headlines, but his ‘tude is merely the most cartoonish manifestation of the party’s longstanding tin-eared ineptitude. Republicans have lost the majority of women voters in the last six presidential elections, dating back to 1992; they’re teed up to make it seven straight in 2016. And if you want to know why, look no further than what the men said on stage Thursday night in the first prime-time debate.
What never came up Actually, let’s begin what they didn’t say. Working women still earn far less than men, but the candidates said nothing about pay equity. They said nothing about family leave or flexible working arrangements. Even a conservative research group, the Independent Women’s Forum, noticed the paucity of dialogue about women’s everyday lives; as director Sabrina Schaeffer told The Wall Street Journal, “The reality is, I don’t think many conservatives are paying attention to how much Democrats recognize the importance of women voters (who) have really shifted their focus to workplace issues.”
The 10 Republican men had virtually nothing to say about those basic economic concerns. Here’s the gist of what they did say: (1) Planned Parenthood, which annually services the health needs of three million women, should lose its federal money, (2) Big government should step in and force impregnated rape and incest victims to give birth, and (3) Big government should step in and let a high-risk woman die rather than permit her to have an abortion.
Without Trump on stage, they still would’ve said those things. No wonder Republicans lose the female vote election after election. In 2012, they lost women by 11 percentage points (a typically fatal blow, by the way, because in presidential years women typically comprise 53 percent of the voting electorate).
Death to Mothers Take Marco Rubio, for instance. Supposedly he’s “the future” (or so he claims). But he made it clear during the debate that he wants a blanket national ban on abortion, with no exceptions – not for rape or incest, not even when the woman’s life is endangered. This is an extremist stance. According to Gallup, 83 percent of Americans say that abortions should be legal if the woman’s life is endangered, and 75 percent say abortions should be legal in cases of rape or incest.
Meanwhile, Mike Huckabee said that even though Roe v. Wade has been the law of the land for the last 42 years, he refuses to recognize the Supreme Court as the final arbiter of the Constitution. Referring to Roe yesterday on ABC News, he said flatly, “I don’t think it’s legal.” He prefers to dictate moral policy to all women, guided by his special intimacy with God; as he declared during the debate, “It’s time we recognize the Supreme Court is not the supreme being.”
Then we have Scott Walker, another member of the extremist no-exceptions caucus. Megyn Kelly asked him, “Would you really let a woman die rather than have an abortion,” and he basically answered yes: “I believe that that is an unborn child that’s in need of protection out there.” He vaguely referred to “many other alternatives that can also protect the life of that mother,” without specifying anything, much less addressing what should happen if an emergency abortion was the only way to save the woman’s life.
Let’s Defund Women’s Health He then changed the subject to Planned Parenthood and bragged about defunding it in Wisconsin (in a new national poll, Planned Parenthood is far more popular than either the Republican party or Walker himself). All told, he insisted that on the abortion issue, “I’ve got a position that’s in line with everyday America,” a statement that’s delusionally counter-factual. According to a Gallup poll in May, only 19 percent of Americans want abortion to be illegal under all circumstances.
So, as evidenced by what we heard Thursday night, the boffo message to women is basically this: Big government should intrude in their personal lives. In other words, the odds that most women in ’16 will tilt to the GOP are approximately zero. (And according to Gallup, 54 percent of women now describe themselves as “pro-choice,” the highest share this century.)
In fact, the Republican candidates are not only deaf to most women’s everyday concerns, they’re deaf to the advice of their own strategists.
One year ago – and hardly anyone else has written about this – Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS group partnered with the conservative American Action Network, to study women voters. They did eight focus groups and a national poll. Their conclusion: Republicans “fail to speak to women in the different circumstances in which they live.” For instance, women care deeply about pay equity, and “Republicans who openly deny the legitimacy of the issue will be seen as out of touch with women’s life experiences.” All told, “conservative have more work to do with women.”
Gee, ya think? The truth is, Donald Trump is just the glossy cherry atop the party’s sexist sundae.
Dick Polman, former political writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, blogs at www.newsworks.org, where this column originally appeared.