Yesterday, the Washington Examiner published “We Need More GOP Women, But Not in the Mold of Rep. Elise Stefanik” by Neil Dwyer. Representative Elise Stefanik of New York recently announced she plans to help Republican women get through primaries, which evidently disturbed the author. Like the headline says, he argues against Stefanik, criticizing several of her votes while stating, “more than anything, voters appreciate when their representatives stand for a platform.”
Although the author’s intentions were surely well-meaning and sincere, the wording and framing struck many right-leaning women, including myself, as tone-deaf and counterproductive.
It’s necessary to begin with a crucial error that the author makes. He implies that, because some establishment and moderate Republicans lost in 2018, the lesson learned should be that Republicans should only run conservatives. However, this take does not look at each district or state individually to determine what kind of candidate can win, nor does it examine the political landscape as a whole to gauge voters’ feelings towards Democrats, Republicans, and Trump. And Republicans who often argue in favor of local and state government in order to customize solutions should acknowledge that a one-size-fits-all approach does not work — that, for example, Maine might not elect a Ted Cruz Republican, nor would Texas (currently, at least) elect a Susan Collins Republican. Furthermore, despite the author implying that Stefanik’s voters do not appreciate her, Stefanik herself noted in response the ways they do, including the fact that she won her re-election by the largest margin of any congressional Republican in the Northeast.
Now, on to the substance of the article. The author asks, “Is Stefanik the mold we want to see the party’s candidates being shaped from?” He criticizes three of her votes, states that Republicans need to find “women who can speak directly to the mothers in these suburban districts and appeal to their family values,” then says “recruiting women for the sake of optics will get the party nowhere.”
There are several points to be made in response.
First of all, not once has Stefanik said she only wants to help Republican women who think or vote like her. She said, “I want to play in primaries, and I want to win big in primaries. … [W]e need to support [Republican] women earlier and learn the lessons of how effective the other side was in getting women through these competitive primaries.”
Secondly, the author is optimistic, to say the least, if he thinks the Republican Party is in a position to be able to turn women away (more on that below). As Bulwark editor-at-large Bill Kristol put it, “an impressive young Republican congresswoman who wins in a competitive seat isn’t the kind of women ‘we need'”?
Lastly, the author does not seem to consider the fact that Republicans could — or should — attract women who aren’t mothers or who care more about just “family values” (though he does awkwardly force in other principles under “family values,” such as security, immigration, and prosperity). What is the GOP strategy to appeal to women voters who aren’t married or mothers? Does the author think that the only women the Republican Party should attempt to appeal to are those who are married or mothers? And what happens when women’s “family values” include expecting fidelity in one’s marriage, respecting a Gold Star family whose son died for America, or keeping asylum-seeking or migrant children with their parents?
Despite the author praising certain women he believes have “checked all the boxes,” women do not fit in a box. We are not all the same. We have our own experiences and opinions that lead us to value policy differently. Not every Republican has the same policy preferences — which is then reflected at the local or state level.
Stefanik wants more women to run in the Republican Party because she wants more women in the Republican Party — which is important, not just to help the Republican Party succeed, but to ensure it endures. It is vital that the GOP address the challenges it faces with regard to attracting and retaining millennials, women, and people of color.
However, since the author seems to have ignored those problems nonetheless — and he’s not the only one to do so recently — let us consider some of them.
Although the national popular vote does not determine presidential races, it is significant in indicating the direction in which the country is moving. According to FiveThirtyEight contributor Dave Wasserman, the Democrats’ national lead in 2018 House votes surpassed 9.7 million votes — the largest midterm raw vote margin ever — and 8.6% — the largest percentage margin in more than 30 years. That’s one sign the Republican Party is either losing voters or not attracting new ones.
But it isn’t the only sign. I do not presume to speak for all right-leaning women — and there are many right-leaning women more than satisfied with the Republican Party — but the numbers don’t lie. Registered Republicans voted for Democrats in 2018. POLITICO reported in October that “[f]ewer and fewer American women identify as Republicans, and that slow migration is speeding up under Trump.”
Less than one year ago, the Washington Examiner reported on a Pew poll showing “millennial women are leaving the Republican Party in droves in recent years,” as the number of millennial women who identify as Republican dropped from 36% to 23% between 2002 and 2017 — meanwhile, the number who identify as Democrat grew from 54% to 70% during that same time period. Republican pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson has tried to warn the GOP against taking comfort in the idea that millennials will embrace conservatism as they grow older, writing that “[y]oung people are not discovering conservatism on their own, and they are largely repelled by what they see coming from the right in the Trump era.”
Last but not least: The Republican Party appears to be losing even married women, one of its longtime most faithful Republican voting blocs. And, according to the women interviewed by NPR and POLITICO, part of that is due to their “family values” such as valuing morality and opposing separating families; during the administration-caused family separation crisis last year, one married mother told NPR she would vote Democrat, saying, “I’ll pay more taxes if it means the children can be with their parents.”
Like Representative Elise Stefanik, I want smart, qualified women to find a home in the Republican Party. I want smart, qualified women to run for office under the Republican Party. I want smart, qualified women to help lead the Republican Party.
All politics is identity politics. Believing yourself to be “above” identity politics is to box yourself in, to blow possible outreach opportunities to necessary prospective audiences, and to engage in your own version of identity politics.
This is not to say that identity politics isn’t complicated. It is. But, as I wrote last month, identity politics exists on a spectrum, one with a difference between “vote for unqualified people based solely on their race/sex/et cetera” and “it benefits us all for our qualified legislators to be diverse, because people have different experiences and therefore can provide different but valuable perspectives.”
It is neither healthy nor productive for a party to be represented solely by people who have mostly had similar experiences with the law, or education system, or the police, and who cannot understand — or are unwilling to listen to — others’ life experiences. Our country benefits when our qualified legislators have a wide array of experiences and can therefore overall understand more Americans, as well as the challenges they face. This will help us to govern more effectively and to craft legislation in such a way to expand liberty and to make prosperity accessible to more Americans.
It’s possible the Republican Party will soon become a smaller and more homogeneous party as well as one that increasingly no longer serves to represent the ideals it once did, such as limited government or free trade. If women, as a result, start to become independents or to choose the Democrats, it will be because the Republican Party pushed them out.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent those of any other individual or entity. Follow Sarah on Twitter: @sarahmquinlan.