How the GOP Can Get Right With Women

The GOP must show women the party understands them by electing people like Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers to party leadership roles.

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Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., Aug. 30, 2012. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., Aug. 30, 2012. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Like many Republicans, I was surprised that President Obama was re-elected. Unlike some Republicans who think nothing need change in our party, I believe there's now an opportunity to improve its image with voters. "What Republicans need to learn is, how do we speak to all Americans? You know, not just to people who look like us and act like us, but how do we speak to all Americans?" Speaker John Boehner said to Diane Sawyer last night. Most of us agree that would include learning to speak to women.

Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison told CNN that the GOP must stop treating women like "a throw-away," saying, "We've got to talk to women about the issues they care about." It doesn't sound like Senator Hutchison thinks that women are single-issue voters who care only about abortion and contraception, as the Democrats clearly believe. "On economics, and the job creation and the fiscal cliff, I think Republicans are ahead," she said. She added, "What we need to do is fashion a party around the economics and the long-term viability of the economy of our country. When people start trying to go to such personal issues and try to form a party around it, it's very difficult."

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

"We had Republican candidates who got very high-profile and said some very stupid things. I think that really tainted the party," Hutchison said. And even though Mitt Romney distanced himself from unsuccessful Senate candidate Todd Akin's remarks on rape, she said it created the impression that "Republicans don't get it." 

She's absolutely right that the conservative message about jobs, the economy, and the deficit is the best way to reach women. She's also right that people think Republicans "don't get it." Kay Bailey Hutchison is retiring from the Senate, and I haven't heard what she plans to do next. Here's an idea: She should run for chair of the Republican Party. Reince Priebus hasn't announced whether he'll run for re-election as chair yet, but she should throw her hat in the ring. 

Before being re-elected to the U.S. Senate three times by no less than 60 percent of the vote each time, she served in the Texas House for two terms and was elected state treasurer; she knows a thing or two about winning elections. She's certainly qualified for the job and there's no doubt that she "gets it." She'd be a great party chair.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

Here's another idea: House Republicans should elect Cathy McMorris Rodgers as head of the Republican Conference. She's already the highest-ranking Republican woman in Congress and was the GOP's point person on the so-called "war on women."  Moving her up in the House leadership would do the Republicans a lot of good. She's a solid conservative, a fiscal hawk, and a former small business owner. McMorris Rodgers announced yesterday she's running for the job, and she'd be perfect.

Republicans need to elect these two principled, smart, and civil women to leadership roles in the party. The sooner the better, too. Both know how to speak to all Americans.

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