The GOP is hemorrhaging the women's vote: a New York Times/CBS poll taken in mid-February showed that women now approve of the job President Obama is doing by a margin of 53 to 38 percent; in January, it was 48 to 46 percent. A Wall Street Journal/ NBC News poll this month shows that the president has opened an 18 point lead among women over former Gov. Mitt Romney. Unless the Republican leadership steps forward to turn things around quickly, it's going to get a whole lot worse. By "quickly," I mean now. This week.
That's because the New York Times reported on Sunday that starting Monday, the Obama campaign is launching an "intensified effort" to win women back, after narrowly losing the women's vote in the 2010 midterms. Monday, mailings go out to a million women in a dozen battleground states, targeted at mothers, young women, and older women. On Wednesday, "Nurses for Obama" will launch, with a nationwide network of healthcare reform "advocates," a new website, and phone banks in swing states to contact women. By the end of the month we'll see a "Women's Week of Action" timed to follow the long-planned hoopla set for the second anniversary of the president signing the healthcare bill into law. Volunteers told the New York Times about launching "Women for Obama" groups on Facebook pages and with house parties, and that all kinds of women are joining enthusiastically.
"Up until six weeks ago, Democrats suffered from an intensity gap, but this has closed as women—particularly suburban women—have turned against the G.O.P.," pollster Peter Hart, told the Times.
In the same issue of the Sunday New York Times this weekend, this story ran: "Centrist Women Tell of Disenchantment with Republicans." Here's a quote from Mary Russell, a self-described "old school" Republican who is a retired teacher from Iowa City, who had spoken with her girlfriends: "We all agreed that this seemed like a throwback to 40 years ago." That is exactly the sentiment I was hearing all weekend from women here in Washington. The Republican women I spoke with are up in arms. As for the Republican presidential candidates, Mary Russell added: "If they're going to decide on women's reproductive issues, I'm not going to vote for any of them. Women's reproduction is our own business." Amen to that. I'm an "old school" Republican too, and I'm a big fan of the Mind Your Own Business argument.
There are two things the leadership of the Republican Party must do—whether that means candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul, Speaker of the House John Boehner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican Governors Chair Bob McDonnell, or Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus—have you noticed there are no women on that list? (Maybe that's part of the problem.)
First, it's not too late for them to unequivocally state that Rush Limbaugh's recent statements calling Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute" were wrong. Not inappropriate, not a poor choice of words, but wrong. And that sentiments like that have no place in the modern Republican Party.
Second, they can't ignore this problem and hope that it will pass in time for the general election. Originally I wrote that these social issues were a distraction and that we should get the conversation back to an economic one. But that was before the list got so long: the Susan G. Komen fight with Planned Parenthood; the Health and Human Services ruling on free access to the morning-after pill and contraception, and the congressional hearing on it without any women; the fight in the Virginia legislature over mandatory ultrasounds; Rush Limbaugh's rantings; and Rick Santorum questioning pre-natal testing and writing that "radical feminists" were the cause of women working outside the home. The genie is out of the bottle, and Republicans aren't going to force it back in by being silent. Women make up the majority of American voters, and the majority is upset.
Women need to be reassured that the Republican Party does not believe in dictating women's reproductive choices for them. If the GOP is truly the party of free markets and free people, it needs to echo the wisdom of Mary Russell: "Women's reproduction is our own business." If the modern Republican Party wants to be the home of limited government conservatism—which I'm not convinced it does anymore—it needs to prove that its small government philosophy extends to all things, including social issues. The GOP can't argue that it's against government mandates in healthcare in some cases, and not in others.
Time to make a good case for why women should vote Republican. Right now, it's getting difficult for us "old school" Republicans to keep defending the men.