Addressing the GOP gender gap

Labeling the GOP as the party of “old white men” reached new fervor in the wake of a report commissioned by two major Republican groups, which detailed the currently insurmountable gender gap faced by the party.

The report, leaked by Politico, was the result of conversations with women across the country in the form of focus groups and polling. The bottom line? Overall, 49 percent of women view Republicans unfavorably.

The contents of the report aren’t necessarily shocking. Republican strategists have known for years that women and ethnic minorities are trending away. The report sums this up, according to Politico, as Republicans “fail[ing] to speak to women in the different circumstances in which they live.”

That’s a nice way of saying most women believe the GOP lacks understanding and is out of touch with reality.

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., covers his face as he tells a story during the Iowa GOP Lincoln Dinner at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Cedar Rapids on Aug. 11, 2014.
U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., covers his face as he tells a story during the Iowa GOP Lincoln Dinner at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Cedar Rapids on Aug. 11, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Assuming that all women desire to hold the titles of wife and mother or, worse yet, assuming that all women should hold those titles, has resulted in significant constituent doubt within one of the longest-serving GOP stronghold issues: the economy.

Formerly a double-digit GOP advantage, the issues of fiscal responsibility and economic growth are now a dead heat between the two predominant parties. On the voting issues of the economy, health care, jobs and education, women are overwhelmingly supporting Democrats. For instance, Democrats now hold a 35-point advantage among women on the issue of jobs.

As of this writing, nearly 15,000 comments had been left on the Politico report. If you delve into them you’ll find … well, a lot of garbage. But, tucked amid the garbage are various posts where Republicans list the prominent card-carrying GOP women. “What about Nikki Haley? Or Condoleezza Rice?” commentors ask.

Therein lies the biggest obstacle for the GOP, which now appears to be serious about making inroads with women and minorities.

Persuading a person of a specific gender or background to run on your platform does not change the platform or expand the conversation. If the policy statement being produced by the orange person finds disfavor, trotting out the same policy statement on the shoulders of a purple person isn’t going to permanently alter the public’s perception.

For old-school fiscal conservatives like me, the situation is akin to failing market growth rate. When business management reviews a product, they deduct overall market growth rate from the observed product’s sales growth. In other words, why is this product being produced if people no longer buy it?

Until now, GOP strategists have been content to slap a new label on the same product. “New and improved — now with more estrogen!”

The descriptor of “old white men” is not an indictment of the people that comprise today’s GOP. It’s an assessment of the policies and values promoted by the party ­— policies that don’t address or acknowledge the daily lives of wide swathes of Americans.

It’s time to look beyond the spin to the product itself. Otherwise, the GOP factory will be forced to consider a new type of shutdown.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on Sept. 6, 2014. Photo credit: Stephen Mally/The Gazette