Just a few days after the 2012 elections, in which the gender gap helped propel Democrats to major national victories, Charles Krauthammer urged his party not to change its policy agenda. Rather, the pundit said Republicans will be fine if they present their far-right views on women’s health and reproductive rights with greater “delicacy.”
To that end, we’ve seen periodic moves this year intended to improve the GOP’s positioning as it fights for women voters. We’ve seen the Republican National Committee emphasize outreach; we’ve seen party officials emphasize recruitment; and we’ve seen plenty of Republican pollsters offer credible advice to the party about how best to talk about social issues.
Jonathan Martin reports today on the next step: a new political strategy firm that intends to “help the party’s candidates better tailor their messages to women.”
[Katie Packer Gage, who served as deputy campaign manager for Mitt Romney in 2012], Ashley O’Connor and Christine Matthews this week are opening what appears to be the first Republican firm aimed specially at wooing female voters. They are calling it Burning Glass Consulting – a reference to what they see as the need for a focus on appealing to women that is so laserlike that it can burn glass.“We want to get smarter about how we communicate the Republican message specifically to women,” said Ms. Gage. “Certainly there are challenges with other demographic groups, but women represent 53 percent of the electorate.”The three strategists will undertake public opinion research, TV ads and general consulting for Republican candidates about how to better reach that majority.
On the surface, this seems entirely sensible. The party has struggled badly in recent election cycles with women, and here’s a firm featuring experienced political professionals who will presumably offer sound guidance to Republicans about how best to ask for women’s votes.
But the underlying problem with everything we’ve heard for the last year – from Krauthammer’s concern for “delicacy” to the launch of Burning Glass Consulting – is the assumption that policy is secondary to rhetoric. There’s a formula, the argument goes, that will persuade women to overlook how the Republican policy agenda will affect women.
And while I can appreciate why it’s easier to change sales pitches than products, by all appearances, this entire approach is badly flawed. As we discussed the other day, Republicans have chosen to present themselves as the party of requiring medically-unnecessary ultrasounds; fighting equal-pay laws; restricting contraception access, closing clinics, combating reproductive rights, and targeting Planned Parenthood.
For some in the party, this agenda won’t necessarily repulse women voters, if only Republicans can find the right candidates to deliver the right words the right way.
It’s a dubious proposition. The issue plaguing the party isn’t spin, it’s substance. The sooner it comes to terms with this basic reality, the sooner it can try to compete more effectively.