How Many Women Does the GOP Want to Lose?
In the firestorm of allegations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Republicans have made clear that mitigating their woman problem has taken a back seat to voting him onto the Supreme Court as soon as possible.
A Republican consultant summed it up this week, noting privately, “I’d lose the House to get Justice Kavanaugh.”
Young voters, minority voters, college-educated voters, independent voters … as Republicans hemorrhage support across the board, hell, why not give up on women as well?
A new political realignment caused by the flight of white, college-educated women from the GOP has loomed since President Trump was elected. And it became an electoral threat to Republicans well before anyone learned Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s name.
Some Republicans remain in denial about the shift, which has been exacerbated by Trump. In 2016, Hillary Clinton’s advantage with women voters, and Trump’s advantage with men, produced the widest gender gap in history. Trump, however, won 53 percent of white women. Yet Steve Bannon bluntly conceded months ago that Trump has ushered in an “anti-patriarchy movement.” The president’s former chief strategist said that “the Republican college-educated woman is done. They’re gone. They were going to anyway at some point in time. Trump triggers them.”
Recent polling confirms growing trends since last year showing large majorities of these women believe Trump doesn’t respect women as he does men, and they are embarrassed by his behavior. More of the same polling show they don’t like his job performance or like him as a person. The advantage for Democrats in the midterm elections, among this group, polls typically at 60 percent or higher across all surveys. African-American women are another story. We know they voted Democratic by margins of more than 91 percent in statewide races for Alabama Senate and Virginia governor last year, and we know they reject Trump by largely the same margin. How many of them are turned out by Democrats in November will be decisive.
Trump’s approval is consistently higher among non-college-educated women, but certain pocketbook issues -- like the popularity of Obamacare and the unpopularity of the tax cut -- may have dampened their enthusiasm since 2016. They may not, without Trump on the ballot, show up in margins strong enough to negate the anti-Trump energy that will fuel votes for Democrats this fall.
Young women are trending increasingly Democratic, and support for the GOP has been dropping among millennials for the past decade. According to Pew Research, 23 percent of millennial women identify as Republican. They are far more engaged in the debate over sexual harassment and assault than their mothers and grandmothers, who may have only recently spoken of what was long a hidden scourge when MeToo exploded last year. These young Democrats not only oppose GOP efforts to stop the use of federal funds for preventative care and contraception, they tend to suspect Republicans want to eliminate their access to birth control.
While they don’t traditionally vote in substantial numbers, women age 18-44 are more enthusiastic about voting in this midterm election than they were in 2014, by a margin of 39 percent-14 percent. Democrats are pushing hard to get them to the polls.
Democrats, who aren’t going to let women voters forget the GOP is the party of Roy Moore, will -- no matter that we may never know what truly happened in 1982 -- campaign on the Kavanaugh scandal and charge that Republicans were insensitive to Ford. Some Republicans this week, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham, appeared to be writing Democratic campaign ads for them. “All I can say is we’re bringing this to a close,” he said. “They’ve had tons of time to do this. This has been a drive-by shooting when it comes to Kavanaugh. ... I’ll listen to the lady, but we’re going to bring this to a close.”
Behind closed doors, Republicans hope Ford won’t speak publicly at a hearing and are worried about the potential of similar voter backlash that a confirmation of Kavanaugh without her testimony could bring.
Among those who accept the gamble that a confirmation vote without a hearing could motivate women to vote against them in high numbers and cost them their Senate majority, there is anxiety about what a showdown with Ford could yield. The potential is great for one of their (all) white male committee members -- particularly those over the age of 80 -- making some crusty, impolitic comment that births a midterm campaign hashtag. Sen. Orrin Hatch famously dismissed Anita Hill in 1991, saying: “Her story’s too contrived. It’s so slick it doesn't compute.” Ford, he said this week, is “mixed up.”
Democrats note that during those emergency hearings -- including one on a Sunday -- that followed Hill’s allegations against Clarence Thomas’ confirmation, 22 witnesses testified. These comparisons make Republicans grumpy. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, who took part in the 1991 hearings, said this week that was history. “We’re not looking back. We’re looking forward.”
But Republicans cannot escape the echoes of that drama, which was both different from and similar to the nightmare of the Kavanaugh confirmation. “Republicans came off very poorly during the Thomas hearings when they questioned Anita Hill, and we just have to be so much better than we’ve been in the past in recognizing what’s appropriate and what’s not, in terms of the process,” said retiring, liberated, lonely truth-teller Sen. Jeff Flake. “Some of us are trying to be fair and do the right thing, to not jam it through, but obviously it’s been a challenge.”
It won’t just be women voters who follow the next days and weeks closely but the record number of female candidates running this year. There are already 183 women nominated by Democrats for House seats, and 52 nominated by Republicans. Many of the Democrats were inspired to run by Trump’s election. They will be appealing to women who -- like millennials -- didn’t vote but thought surely the “Access Hollywood” tape would deliver the win to Clinton. The Democratic Party wants to make sure those lapsed voters come out to avenge their mistake.
The next days and weeks will tell how much Republicans want to keep or bring more women into their shrinking tent. On Thursday GOP Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina cracked a joke -- at a debate of all places -- about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg claiming “she was groped by Abraham Lincoln.”
Ha-ha. The exit polls on Nov. 6 could be a laugh riot.