A Woman’s Place Is Running the RNC

If the RNC is going to stop treating women like a coalition, they should put one in charge.

By + More
Political commentator Mary Matalin addresses the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, Thursday, April 8, 2010. This is the opening session of the four day conference.

This is from the bottom of page 79 of the 100-page report of the Growth and Opportunity Project that the Republican National Committee released this week:

Communicating, organizing and winning the women's vote should be part of all activities that the RNC undertakes. Women are not a 'coalition.' They represent more than half the voting population in the country, and our inability to win their votes is losing us elections. While the Co-Chair of the RNC should continue, as has been the case, to lead the effort to create and implement programs to connect with female voters and help female candidates, this effort should not be restricted to the Co-Chair's office. It should be a mandate for all relevant departments in the building.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

The co-chair of the RNC has always been a woman—with one exception, more on that in a minute—because Rule 5 (1) of the Republican National Committee Rules reads: "A chairman and a co-chairman of the opposite sex who shall be elected by the members of the Republican National Committee. The chairman or co-chairman need not be a member of the Republican National Committee." If the chairman is a man, then the co-chair must be a woman, which I'm sure was a well-intentioned idea when it started, designed to give women a voice. But it's turned into a de facto way to check the box of elevating women without putting them in charge. And as a result, it's the co-chair's office that traditionally has handled all the outreach to female voters.

If the new RNC mandate is to stop treating women like a coalition, and start implementing programs committee-wide to connect with women, there's an obvious next step here. The next chairman of the RNC should be a woman. Why the 100-page report doesn't even suggest the possibility of a woman leading the party is beyond me. What a missed opportunity.

There are plenty of great candidates to choose from, starting with Maria Cino and Ann Wagner, who gave Reince Priebus a run for his money in 2011. Or how about Mary Matalin, Kay Bailey Hutchison or Carly Fiorina, to name just a few.

[ Read the U.S. News Debate: Is the GOP's Problem in its Strategies or its Policies?]

There's only been one female RNC chair, and she was chosen when George H.W. Bush was the outgoing chairman. (Republican presidents get to choose their own chair; when a Democrat is in office, RNC committee members elect a chair.) President Gerald Ford had just been sworn in after President Nixon's resignation, and understandably wanted to name his own person to lead the party. He called in Bush and the two of them decided that Bush's co-chair, Mary Louise Smith, would be a great party chief. To this day, Smith is the only woman who has ever headed up the Republican Party, serving from 1974 to 1977. And to this day, RNC committee members have never elected a woman.

That needs to change. After all, according to a recommendation on page 80: "The Republican Party committees need to understand that women need to be asked to run. Women are less likely to run for office on their own, and we should be encouraging and championing their desire to seek elective office." That includes being elected head of the RNC.