In recent years, House Republican leaders have occasionally put Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) out in front to talk about the GOP and women, often with awkward results. Last year, for example, the conservative North Carolinian argued that health insurers should be able to charge women more than men for comparable coverage.
Several months later, Ellmers said the Affordable Care Act is evidence of a “war on women” for reasons that were largely incoherent.
Late last week, however, a number of conservative women lawmakers, mostly members of the Republican Study Committee, got together to discuss GOP “messaging” when it comes to outreach to women voters. According to the Washington Examiner’s Ashe Schow, Ellmers was one of the featured guests, though the congresswoman’s remarks were hard to believe.
“Men do tend to talk about things on a much higher level,” Ellmers said. “Many of my male colleagues, when they go to the House floor, you know, they’ve got some pie chart or graph behind them and they’re talking about trillions of dollars and how, you know, the debt is awful and, you know, we all agree with that.” […]As for connecting to women specifically, Ellmers drove it home with a line that, had there been liberals in the audience, would have made the news.“We need our male colleagues to understand that if you can bring it down to a woman’s level and what everything that she is balancing in her life – that’s the way to go,” Ellmers said.
I haven’t seen a video of the comments, and it’s likely one won’t turn up. As Dave Weigel noted, Ashe Schow was the only journalist who scored a ticket for the event. The Washington Examiner’s piece is only report from the last week’s gathering.
But if the quote is accurate, and this is what Ellmers actually said (and presumably believes), it’s the sort of public comment that can do real harm to a politician’s career. Indeed, it’s an inexplicable line that could make the GOP’s outreach to women voters even more difficult. [Update: see Ellmers’ response below.]
Since the gender gap buried Republicans in 2012, we’ve seen quite a few Republican voices step up with advice to the party. Shortly after the last election cycle, for example, Charles Krauthammer urged his party not to change its policy agenda, but rather, to present their far-right views with greater “delicacy.”
Others suggested avoiding talk about rape would be a key part of a successful rhetorical strategy.
But never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d hear a congresswoman argue that men “talk about things on a much higher level,” so Republicans should “bring it down to a woman’s level.”
Again, if Ellmers really did say this, it’s an extraordinary example of a Republican saying something that’s factually wrong, offensive, tone-deaf, and politically idiotic, all at the same time.
Update: The congresswoman’s office issued a statement today, responding to the quote that appeared in the Washington Examiner’s article:
“This is absolutely ridiculous and the quote in question was taken completely out of context. I am a woman, and find it both offensive and sexist to take my words and redefine them to imply that women need to be addressed at a lower level.“The point of Friday’s panel was to have an open conversation regarding how we communicate our values and principles to women across this country. Unfortunately, certain leftist writers have decided to take this important opportunity and engage in ‘gotcha’ journalism. There were so many positive ideas and solutions proposed during this discussion that sought to empower women. But instead of focusing on these positive steps, some writers are cherry-picking words and using predetermined agendas to attack Republicans and increase their readership.“It is a shame that such an important moment for addressing solutions and empowering women was used to attack the open exchange of ideas. In answering a question regarding how Republicans can improve their messaging, I took the opportunity to note that everyone comes from different backgrounds and experiences - and our messaging should do the same.“If there is a problem, who is perpetuating it? Was it a room full of women laughing, bonding and sharing solutions - or a liberal woman reporter attacking the event and taking it to a dark place that does not exist?”
Readers can, of course, draw their own conclusions about Ellmers’ statement, though I’d note that this doesn’t deny the congresswoman made the comments, only that the comments were taken “out of context.”
I’m not sure how a multi-paragraph, multi-sentence quote can be taken “completely” out of context. It’s also unclear how this can be fairly labeled “cherry-picking words.”
Second Update: Ashe Schow has published a new report with an audio clip and a lengthy transcript. I’ll have a follow-up report in the morning.