Gender equality is fundamental to a healthy democracy, and greater representation of women in American politics should be one of our top priorities as a nation. But not at any cost. If our democratic system is to thrive, there must be no place in electoral politics for women who push the preposterous ‘big lie’ that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.
This election cycle, there are as many as 120 Republican nominees running for Senate, House, governor, attorney general and secretary of state who have denied the 2020 presidential election results. And during the primaries that took place through the end of May, nearly two dozen women across statewide, Senate and House races also pushed this false narrative.
As a result, these candidates are poisoning our system and turning their backs on the rule of law.
In the 117th Congress, no two lawmakers better embody the dangers at hand than Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., – both of whom are up for re-election. Staunch election deniers, they both reportedly appealed to former President Trump for pardons to excuse their involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection. Rep. Green, perhaps the most dangerous of the extreme MAGA women, has repeatedly endorsed political violence, ascribes to wild anti-Semitic QAnon conspiracy theories, and accused her own Republican colleagues in the Senate of being “pro-pedophile” because they voted to confirm Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. Rep. Boebert has her own ignominious record of "out-Trumping" Trump.
The problem is that while many may want to see Reps. Greene and Boebert as outliers, more women with similar views are also running for office at the state, local and national level. And in some cases, they are winning.
The upcoming primary for governor in Arizona typifies this. If election denier and Trump backed candidate Kari Lake becomes the Republican nominee for governor in the Aug. 2 primary, it could set a precedent that embracing QAnon, Nazi sympathizers and the ‘big lie’ is a winning strategy for women. Given the central role the Arizona recount played in the 2020 Presidential election, a woman like Lake in power could be truly dangerous.
In Texas, Rep. Mayra Flores, R-Tex., who consistently tagged QAnon on her social media and posted conspiracy theories about Jan. 6, claiming the Capitol Police opened the gates for the rioters, won a special election in June and flipped a seat held by a long-time incumbent Democrat. Recently Rep. Flores, who is running for a full-term in November, tried to distance herself from QAnon, but it’s clear that embracing such views helped her get elected.
These women have bet that taking extreme MAGA positions will be good for their political fortunes. But their ultimate electoral success remains to be seen. Five Thirty Eight found that in primary races where there was an election denier running against a GOP candidate who accepted the 2020 election as fair, the candidate who accepted Biden had indeed won the presidency won their own race 54 percent of the time.
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., a ranking member of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 7 attack on the U.S. Capitol, has taken a far different tact, courageously defending our democracy at her political peril. Rep. Cheney has lauded other Republican women like former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson who came forward to testify in the Jan. 6 hearings as true patriots. Rep. Cheney understands her stance may cost her elected office come November, but she believes it’s worth it.
The fact is that gender diversity is critical at every level of the political process and especially important for the Republican party, which has lagged behind in this regard. A multitude of right-leaning political action committees focused on supporting and electing conservative women have emerged in recent years, trying to offset the huge power that big players, like Emily’s List, wields on the left. And they have had real success. In 2020, a record number of Republican women were elected to Congress. In this cycle right-leaning PACs have mostly stayed away from the election deniers. As one PAC founder recently told me, they are betting on women they believe can win and they don’t see the extremist MAGA women candidates as electable in November.
The U.S. is far behind much of the world in the full participation of women in the political process. The World Economic Forum ranks the U.S. 37th in the world for the political parity of women. Despite gains in recent years, the number of women in elected office has still never exceeded 30 percent. Those numbers must increase, and we must upend the systemic barriers preventing progress toward that end.
But extremist female candidates who have embraced the ‘big lie,’ conspiracy theories, and racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic views are simply not the answer. They weaken our fragile democracy. When it comes to being elected to public office, all women are not created equal.
Lauren Leader is co-founder and CEO of All In Together, a non-partisan women’s political leadership organization. She tweets @LaurenLeaderAIT.