Republican strategist Kate Obenshain was recently on Fox News when Bill O’Reilly posited that there must be “some downside to having a woman president.” He added, “There haven’t been that many strong women leaders throughout history.”
A week later, Obenshain was at CPAC reflecting on the right and the gender gap (thanks to reader J.B. for the tip).
One of the panelists on a discussion conservative women in politics had a message for men within the party: no dumb comments this cycle and let women talk about contraception.“We cannot have any stupid comments this year. No stupid comments,” conservative author Kate Obenshain said Saturday at the Conservative Political Action Conference. “Please think before you make pithy, obnoxious comments.” Obenshain added that it’s important to avoid comments that play into the “War On Women” attack against Republicans.
She went on to say that when it comes to contraception, “White men stay behind, let the women talk about this issue.”
At the surface, all of this seems quite sensible. There’s ample evidence that Republicans have struggled of late with women voters at the national level, at least in part due to “stupid comments,” so Obenshain’s advice has a sensible ring to it.
But the underlying problem persists: many Republicans still believe their difficulties have more to do with rhetoric than policy, as if substance just isn’t that important.
This keeps happening – party officials set up tutorials, coaching Republicans on the importance of avoiding Todd Akin-esque “legitimate rape” comments. And to be sure, that’d be a good start.
But as we’ve discussed before, 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. Avoiding “stupid comments” might help, but what about pursuing an ambitious policy agenda many women will also find “stupid”?
If GOP officials assume women voters will simply overlook the effects of Republican policy agenda if it’s packaged more effectively, they’re likely to be disappointed.
I’m also struck by Obenshain’s suggestion that Republicans should “let the women talk about” contraception. In practical terms, I’m not sure how this would work.
In Colorado, for example, Republican Senate hopeful Cory Gardner has endorsed “personhood” measures that would not only ban abortions, but also some forms of birth control. If asked about his far-right position, the congressman will be hard pressed to say, “I’ve decided to let the women talk about this, so don’t ask me.”
The issue plaguing the party isn’t spin, it’s substance. There’s a limit as to how much help new talking points can do.