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Obama the only winner of the Republican ‘war on women’

When former Senator Rick Santorum dropped out of the Republican nomination contest earlier this week, the race for the presidency took a sharp turn toward the general election. For presumptive nominee…

President Obama addresses of the White House Forum on Women and the Economy on April 6 this year. EPA/Pete Marovich

When former Senator Rick Santorum dropped out of the Republican nomination contest earlier this week, the race for the presidency took a sharp turn toward the general election.

For presumptive nominee Mitt Romney, this requires a sharp turn of his own: away from the right-wing base and toward the up-for-grabs centre.

That pivot requires tackling an artefact of the primary season, the Republican “war on women.” In the battle for the base, candidates pledged to limit contraception coverage in health insurance and defund Planned Parenthood.

They could take these stands because the constituency most dialled into the issues - single women under 50 - rarely participate in the GOP primaries. But come November, single women will make up 26% of the electorate. And since the contraceptive debate began, they’ve flocked to President Obama and the Democrats. Recent polls show women now favour Obama over Romney by a staggering 19 points (57% to 38%).

To win in November, Romney and the GOP must shift from a “war on women” to a battle for their votes. But how do they do that, given the damage done to the Republican brand?

First, they have to stop the bleeding. A narrative is in place: Republicans don’t care about women. Every time a politician reinforces that narrative, it becomes more difficult to overturn. When Wisconsin governor Scott Walker repealed the state’s equal pay law last week, he provided such reinforcement. Worse, he helped tie the “war on women” to the economy and jobs, the central issue in the coming election.

The problem isn’t policy but message. Republicans initially framed the contraception policy as an attack on religious liberty, and the equal pay law as a burden on businesses. But not every Republican stayed on point. A major Santorum supporter up-ended the religious liberty debate by suggesting the only contraceptive pill “gals” need is aspirin - to clasp between their knees.

Likewise, a Wisconsin lawmaker weighing in on the equal pay law defended its repeal this way: “You could argue money is more important for men.” You could argue that, but it won’t win over the 40% of families in which women are the primary breadwinners. To combat the “war on women” narrative, the GOP has to make message discipline a priority.

Presumptive Republican candidate Mitt Romney and his wife Ann after the New Hampshire primary.

The second step for Republicans: connect to their history as the party of women’s rights. Columnist Frank Rich recently dismissed the GOP as “the Stag Party” because it has so alienated women voters.

Yet the party used to house the foremost defenders of women’s equality. Republicans led the fight for woman suffrage and the Equal Rights Amendment. Party leaders like Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, and George H. W. Bush vocally supported reproductive rights and organisations like Planned Parenthood. Those specific issues aren’t on the table for today’s socially-conservative GOP. But Republicans need to make the case that the values underlying these past policies - support for women’s choices and equality before the law - shape the party’s current agenda.

Finally, Mitt Romney needs to find a way to speak directly to women. His wife Ann is a tremendous asset: sharp, well-spoken, likeable. But a candidate can’t outsource the concerns of 52% of the nation to his spouse.

He needs to explain - himself - how his policies will help the vulnerable, keep families safe, and dial back the militarism of the past decade. These concerns weigh more heavily with women voters. Romney must make it clear they matter to him as well.

It is unlikely the gender gap between the parties will disappear any time soon. Women have been more likely than men to vote Democratic for three decades now.

But by actively combating its image as a party of men legislating for men, the GOP can narrow the gap and improve their chance for victory November.

Join the conversation

27 Comments sorted by

  1. Dale Bloom

    Analyst

    Who said there is a "war on women", or is this something else made up?

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    1. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Byron Smith

      If something is repeated often enough, people believe it is true.

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    2. Timothy Wong

      logged in via email @yahoo.com.au

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Well Dale, what would you call it?

      Enlightened and rational evidence-based policy-making?

      It's absolutely unbelievable the with the USA still in Iraq and AfPak, and seemingly unable to diplomatically engage with Iran; massive economic problems; etc etc that the increasingly bizzare and ethereal GOP should be wasting the nation's time discussing such tangential matters as reproductive *morality*.

      'Cos that's all it is. For the GOP fundamentalists, there isn't a problem in heaven or on earth, that can be considered outside of a tightly bound and rigidly axiological "world"-view.

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    3. Timothy Wong

      logged in via email @yahoo.com.au

      In reply to Byron Smith

      To Byron Smith.

      Nice program btw. Bit sarcastic obviously, but nice program.

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    4. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Timothy Wong

      Timothy Wong.
      From what I can make of it, the term "war on women" was invented by the press, and then hyped up to create sensationalism and sell more copy.

      War is sell.

      But at least social issues are a part of their election.

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    5. Timothy Wong

      logged in via email @yahoo.com.au

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Yeah sure, it's rhetorical.

      But I can't agree that it's a social issue at all. It's impossible to see that reproductive morality matters diddly squat in the larger scheme of things.

      Only nation in the OECD without universal health-care. That's a social issue. And not just for America because the failure of America to provide for it's citizens in this and in other areas - inasmuch as this is symptomatic of a more widespread decay and decline - affects us all.

      As does of course the parlous…

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    6. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Timothy Wong

      Timothy Wong
      I would think the US has become an exercise in wastefulness. Health care costs would be an example, with the US spending almost twice as much as comparable countries, for half the health care quality.

      http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/06/23/us-usa-healthcare-last-idUSTRE65M0SU20100623

      Australia should take note, as Australian culture seems to follow that of the US, or perhaps the US follows Australian culture. It is difficult to tell as the countries now seem so similar…

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    7. Timothy Wong

      logged in via email @yahoo.com.au

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Dale Bloom,

      Yes I agree that the whole "blame Religion for close to everything" movement is massively overstated and pompous.

      It's a conversation for another time and place but I think we would both probably agree that if Religion were to disappear overnight - everyone of faith would lose it in their sleep - we would wake up tomorrow in a world which would be more or less exactly the same.

      Although, note that this is also a source of crisis for many people of faith ie. their relevance to the world and their identity within it under the conditions of modernity.

      Happily (at least in a largish number of cases) the *institutional* structure of Australia differs from that of the USA - and might be thought to be a closer to eg. Canada - but our cultural adoption of "Americanism" (and the material forces which cause and drive that culture ie. neo-liberalism) is something which worries me as well.

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    8. Tim Paton

      Automotive Engineer

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      In politics, if the majority of people believe something to be true, then it can decide elections.

      Romney has a PR issue. Some people believe his party is at war with women. He's about to sit for a popularity contest where half the voters are women. Others in his party seem intent on reinforcing the perception, and he doesn't seem to be doing much to debunk it.

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    9. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Tim Paton

      Tim Paton
      So is there a war on women?

      I have not heard it officially announced, and it seems like fear mongering and propaganda to me.

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    10. Tim Paton

      Automotive Engineer

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      *sigh*

      That is exactly the point.

      Politics is fear mongering and propaganda.

      This is politics.

      Therefore, there is a perceived war on women.

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    11. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Tim Paton

      Tim Paton
      Is there a perceived war on women only?

      The author writes that there actually is a war on women by the Republicans.

      "That pivot requires tackling an artefact of the primary season, the Republican “war on women.”

      She seems very definite that there is a war on women, and has not said that there is a perceived war only. But I don’t know how the Republicans can actually carry out much of a war, as they are not in power.

      Once again, anything from a university academic on gender has basically 0 reliability.

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    12. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      The Republicans control the House of Representatives, the legislatures of several States and they are governors of several states. Republican commentators are also attacking women's rights in the mainstream media.

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    13. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Gavin,
      It is not a "war on women" then, but attacking their rights.

      That should have been stated in the article, and not exaggerated by saying it was a “war”.

      Further analysis of the situation may also find it is not "attacking women’s rights", but offering an alternative to the current situation.

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    14. Byron Smith
      Byron Smith is a Friend of The Conversation.

      PhD candidate in Christian Ethics at University of Edinburgh

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      I agree that the phrase "war on x" is a cliché and ought to be dropped. Also that in certain circumstances, it leads to poor policy (where the metaphor is taken too literally, such as in the "war on drugs" or "war on terror").

      As I pointed out above, the author uses the phrase four times and each time she uses scare quotes, which can probably be read as her way of referencing the common phrase in use in the US without necessarily endorsing all the assumptions involved. Indeed, in the final reference she speaks of the '"war on women" narrative', indicating that she is referring to the discourse presently happening in the US media and offering a political analysis of Republican strategies for responding to it. That is, this is an article that it more about campaign strategy than the actual debates over the policies in question. Hence, Tim's point that perception is what is at stake (at least in this article) is an important one.

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    15. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Byron Smith

      Byron
      It is now too difficult to tell whether the article is highlighting a problem with a political campaign or it is feminist type fear mongering.

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    16. Lorna Jarrett

      Former PhD candidate, physics teacher

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      "Once again, anything from a university academic on gender has basically 0 reliability".

      Once again, Dale makes fatuous abusive comments about academics.

      I's not just abusive, defamatory and puerile. It's BORING.

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    17. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      Lorna Jarrett
      There is now a “War on Moms”, supposedly being run by the Democrats.

      It was based on a comment by a Hilary Rosen

      "What you have is Mitt Romney running around the country saying, 'Well, you know my wife tells me that what women really care about are economic issues,'" Rosen opined, "and when I listen to my wife, that's what I'm hearing.' Guess what? His wife has actually never worked a day in her life."

      http://news.investors.com/article/607612/201204121839/hilary-rosen-attacks-mom-ann-romney.htm?src=HPLNews

      So which "war" should I believe is real, the "war on women", or the "war on moms"?

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    18. Lorna Jarrett

      Former PhD candidate, physics teacher

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Briefly:

      The set [Women] includes the set [mothers]. Therefore all policies which attack the rights of women necessarily attack the rights of mothers.

      Most adult women are mothers. Therefore policies which attack the rights of mothers also attack the rights of most women.

      Even if [mothers] were not a subset of [women], why could only one of the propositions be true?

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    19. Lorna Jarrett

      Former PhD candidate, physics teacher

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      "Guess what? His wife has actually never worked a day in her life."

      Can you please spell out exactly what that's got to do with anything?

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    20. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      Lorna Jarret,
      Plato and Stanford university could have something to do with it.

      “Women who espouse family values and live them in the hardest of jobs are shunned, while partying Georgetown coeds are praised by those who think providing free contraceptives is what the Founding Fathers meant by "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

      http://news.investors.com/article/607612/201204121839/hilary-rosen-attacks-mom-ann-romney.htm?src=HPLNews

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    21. Tiffany White

      Student

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      An article... "How the War on Women Became Mainstream"

      http://truth-out.org/news/item/8603-how-the-war-on-women-became-mainstream

      Damn right as a woman I consider an attack on my personal rights and choices by any party a war on myself and other women. Women didn't fight for their rights to have some bureaucratic, misogynistic pigs (aka Republicans) take them away because they think women belong in the kitchen barefoot and pregnant. Therefore, we will continue to fight for the right to have…

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    22. Lorna Jarrett

      Former PhD candidate, physics teacher

      In reply to Tiffany White

      Tiffany,

      "They want to criminalize abortions but they also want to criminalize contraception. Contraception is what is keeping many women out of the abortion clinics and not to mention off Welfare"

      Here's the rub - there's a distinct lack of "joined up thinking" in these policies. The only thinking I can discern is a desire to punish women who don't conform to their view of what a "good woman" is. If they actually got their way there'd not only be misery for the women targeted - there'd be complete chaos. Allowing an underclass to form in a wealthy society threatens the entire society - whether or not you care about the welfare of the underclass.

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    23. Tiffany White

      Student

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      I very much agree with you without a doubt. They don't want people thinking for themselves either in fear of the lesser mortals in the world. I hope you don't think I was replying directly to you... it was the discussion in general. Any woman should keep up with these things and we should all be outraged that our rights are endangered especially US women.

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  2. Gavin Moodie
    Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Adjunct professor at RMIT University

    It is not true that for Republicans 'The problem isn’t policy but message', and neither is it true that the Republicans have just a public relations problem. Big parts of the Republican Party opposes abortion and have been trying for years to wind back the current reasonably moderate policy. Republicans need to change their policy, and if it is credible, then they can think about presenting a new image to the electorate.

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