The New York Times published a piece today pointing to Carly Fiorina as the possible solution to the GOP’s woman problem. Jeremy Peters writes: “With a debate performance that was steely and at times deeply personal, Carly Fiorina appears to have improved her standing in the race to be the Republican nominee…she took a big stride toward filling a role her party badly needs: a credible antidote to the gender gap and the Democrats’ claims of a Republican 'war on women.'”
There is so much wrong with that sentence. First, it implies that the reason women aren’t voting for Republicans is that they don’t have enough female candidates. “Winning the female vote is challenging for any Republican,” Peters writes, “Women have traditionally identified strongly with the Democratic Party, while male voters are split between the two parties.”
This is true, of course, but Peters fails to ask why that it is. Perhaps it’s because the Democratic platform appeals to women, and not simply because they toss more female candidates onto debate stages. “Many Republicans,” says a Republican consultant quoted in the piece, “will see her [Fiorina], even if she’s not nominated, as that magic key that can unlock the gender gap.”
This sentiment, assuming it represents what Republican insiders are thinking, captures everything wrong with their approach to women. Like all discerning voters, what matters to women are ideas and policies. How incredibly insulting to assume that women will flock to Fiorina (or any other Republican) regardless of her stance on the issues. The mere presence of a woman in the race is not, by itself, a victory for women’s rights.
If Fiorina doesn’t support the issues that the majority of women care about (and she appears not to), then she stands for the same anti-feminist platform that every other major Republican does. Why would anyone assume that women are looking for a political ornament out of their presidential candidate? The relevant question is, does she approve or reject the policies that alienated women in the first place?
If Republicans were serious, they’d ask what is it about their policies that are repelling female voters. Peters identifies at least two examples:
Republicans in Congress are threatening a government shutdown in a dispute over funding Planned Parenthood. The government’s spending authority expires in less than two weeks, and many conservatives have threatened to vote against a new budget if it includes any money for the organization. In a separate move, Senate Republicans are moving quickly to schedule a vote on legislation that would impose a federal ban on abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy. It would be the most restrictive abortion bill to reach the Senate floor in a decade. Similar laws across the country are facing legal challenges from women’s groups that argue they are unconstitutional.
No matter what the religious lunatics in the Republican Party think, the majority of Americans (especially women) support Planned Parenthood. During the debate on Wednesday, Fiorina aligned herself with the fundamentalists in her party: “This is about the character of our nation,” she said, “And if we will not stand up and force President Obama to veto this bill, shame on us.” With this position, Fiorina supports the Republican hard-liners who want to shut down the government in order to defund Planned Parenthood.
I can’t speak for women, but I’m reasonably certain that this isn’t about “the character of our nation.” It’s about reproductive rights; it’s about access to health care; it’s about the right of a women to control her own body. Even on economic issues like inequality and the minimum wage, Fiorina is well to the right of most women. Hence it’s cynical and unwise to assume that the GOP can roll a woman onto the stage and magically close the gender gap. This is about policies, stupid. Women voters won’t be duped by cosmetic non-solutions. As Peters rightly notes, Fiorina only received 39% of the female vote in her 2010 Senate race against Barbara Boxer, and that’s because her platform didn’t resonate with them.
There’s no reason to expect the GOP to figure any of this out. David Brooks, a darling of the conservative intelligentsia, has already endorsed Fiorina as the panacea the Republican Party needs. “So far,” Brooks writes, “Fiorina has looked like the most impressive candidate. She has a genius for creating signature moments. (‘If you want to stump a Democrat, ask them to name an accomplishment of Mrs. Clinton’s’).” I’m not sure how illustrative of genius that “signature moment” is, but since Brooks declined to explain in what other ways Fiorina is “impressive,” I’ll assume that’s it.
Whatever Fiorina is or isn’t, this much is clear: apart from her gender, she’s indistinguishable from the other GOP candidates – and that’s the problem.