There is one large but overlooked issue amid the various signs of trouble for the GOP with the 2018 midterms right around the corner: The number of Republican women in Congress who are retiring, and the disproportionately few Republican women running for Congress.
Moderate Republican women, it seems, are struggling to find a path forward in a male-dominated and aging party that has embraced President Donald Trump — a man who frequently makes sexist comments and has been accused of sexual misconduct and assault by multiple women — as its standard bearer.
According to the Center for American Women in Politics, the number of Democratic women running for House seats this year increased 146 percent over 2016, while the number of Republican women running for the House increased just 35 percent.
A party that does not diversify cannot survive.
The widely-expected Democratic wave in the midterms means that momentum is on the side of those Democratic candidates at a time that many liberal women are leading the charge against Trump and the Republican party making their voices heard. With so many liberal women running for political office in an election that may strongly favor their party, the disparity of women’s representation in the two political parties is only going to become more apparent to voters.
A big factor here is that Republican women clearly have a hard time running in the age of Trump: They will be, in particular, expected to not just take a stand on his presidency but on his misogynistic behavior and comments toward women which could put them at a disadvantage. Either they’ll be seen as out of step in the #MeToo era if they dismiss his actions, or they’ll set themselves up for scrutiny from Trump and his various acolytes who view any criticism as fundamentally disloyal.
But a Republican Party that remakes itself in the image of Donald Trump is unrecognizable and has lost its compass. Most importantly, I fear the precedent that is being set when Republicans defend Trump and excuse his degrading comments toward women — something I have yet to forget.
Moderate Republican women, it seems, are struggling to find a path forward in a male-dominated and aging party that has embraced President Donald Trump.
And, what’s worse is that the defenses and excuses seem to work: A poll released last Wednesday by the Pew Research Center shows a very partisan divide on sexual harassment. A full 62 percent of Democrats believe men getting away with sexual harassment or assault is a major problem, but only 33 percent of Republicans feel the same. Just as telling, is that 60 percent of Democrats think it is a major issue that women aren’t believed when they report harassment and assault, compared to only 28 percent of Republicans.
Before that, in November 2017, Quinnipiac University published a poll that showed sexual harassment isn’t a deal breaker among Republican voters when it comes to President Trump. Shockingly, 63 percent of Republican voters said Trump shouldn’t be impeached even if it was proven that he had sexually harassed women.
Clearly, there is a problem when so many Republicans don’t take sexual harassment seriously, and it’s thus no coincidence that the party has had a hard time when it comes to messaging to women and attracting women to the party in the age of Trump. Republicans worked hard to close the gender gap and to attract young people to its open tent during and after the 2012 election, but they may have destroyed all the progress they made by supporting Trump.
The views of Republicans on sexual harassment have the potential to limit female candidates from running for political office, from becoming chiefs of staff or from obtaining senior roles.
Moreover, with Republicans in majority in Washington and in many statehouses across the country, the views of Republicans on sexual harassment have the potential to limit female candidates from running for political office, from becoming chiefs of staff or from obtaining senior roles in a male-dominated party and field.
For instance, the same Pew poll shows that 64 percent of Republicans say it is harder for men to interact with women in the wake of the #MeToo movement, compared to 42 percent of Democrats. And, of course, Republicans have traditionally been resistant toward recognizing inequality in the workplace: Many of them in the current Congress refused to bring the Paycheck Fairness Act to the floor for a vote and voted against the 2009 Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, both of which will continue to hurt them with female voters.
The Republican Party needs to become more forward-thinking and inclusive of women, or it will continue to have trouble connecting with female voters and recruiting female candidates. And a party that does not diversify cannot survive; young women in particular, will continue to leave the party in droves if it continues to not represent them.
Ashley Pratte is a political commentator and communications strategist who previously served as director of media relations and public affairs at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the director of media relations and consultant for Better For America. She currently serves on the Board of Republican Women for Progress.