Members Only | June 17, 2019 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

Does GOP Have a ‘Women Problem’?

It's an argument you hear so often it seems true.

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You hear the argument often.

All things being equal, the Republican Party is in trouble. It can’t or won’t diversify. Its appeal among women is abysmal. Meanwhile, racial demographic change is rapidly altering the Democratic Party. If the GOP does not change course soon, it’s toast.

To which I’m inclined to say: all things aren’t equal.

I was reminded of this argument after reading about Susan Brooks. She represents suburban Indianapolis. She’s one of the 13 women in the House Republican Conference. (There are eight Republican women in the Senate.) Brooks said she won’t run for reelection next year. A House minority is about to get more minor.

Her retirement set off questions familiar from the 2016 presidential election. How can the Republican Party hope to reflect the republic’s diversity when it rallies around a lying, thieving, philandering sadist? (Those are my words, obviously, but still.)

It requires two assumptions—that the parties are evenly matched and that elections are fair.

Brooks insists her exit has nothing to do with Donald Trump. She said she’s stepping down for personal reasons. Still, Trump won her district by a smaller margin than Mitt Romney did in 2012. Senate Democrat Joe Donnelly won it, too, despite losing statewide. For these reasons, her district is no longer considered safely Republican.

That Brooks is retiring and her district is getting pinker seem to underscore the idea that the GOP faces dim prospects. The party is getting older and whiter while the Democrats are getting younger and more multicultural. The more women leave, the more the GOP is boxed in, the thinking goes. But that thinking, I’d argue, requires two huge assumptions—that the parties are evenly matched and that elections are fair.

Allow me to address the two major constituencies with the most at stake in perpetuating this argument. They are the political press and the Democratic Party.

Reporters are professionally inclined to frame the parties equally. That way, they and their employers maintain the appearance of treating each party without fear or favor. But in framing them equally, reporters can end up distorting political reality.

It’s true that the Democrats benefit from a changing electorate, but that doesn’t mean the Republicans must follow suit. Indeed, for at least a decade, the GOP has pursued an answer to racial demographic change: legally limiting access to the franchise.

Three rulings by the Supreme Court contract the franchise by privileging the GOP in federal elections. Understanding that should make clear all things are not equal. Understanding that should make clear the “women problem” is mostly hype.

The first is Citizens United. That decision permitted billionaires to spend virtually unlimited sums on campaigns. Best of all, it’s secret. By law, they do not have to identify themselves. They can buy candidates without the cost of public shame.

The second is Shelby. That ruling crippled the 1965 Voting Rights Act. States in the South and Midwest have since passed strict voter identification laws with the practical outcome being that voters of color are barred from the ballot box. Why worry about racial demographic change when you can mitigate the impact of demographic change? Why recruit people of color when they’d complain about disenfranchising voters?

The third is Janus. That decision is draining what little power remains in labor unions. The ruling outlawed collecting dues money from non-union workers whose jobs unions protect. Unions help Democrats in two ways. They are a powerful organizational tools for getting out the vote. They organizationally create bonds between people in spite of competing backgrounds. While solidarity and unity benefit the Democrats, fragmentation benefits the GOP. Janus is atomizing labor unions.

None of this is to mention the GOP’s efforts to prevent a majority of Americans from exercising self-rule. The party seeks to stop immigrants, even ones brought here as children, from becoming citizens who vote. It hopes to place a citizenship question on the next US Census form to undercut liberal states where unauthorized immigrants tend to live. And the party is prepared to block any and all legislation protecting federal elections from foreign attempts to undermine our national sovereignty.

Reporters tend to overlook the GOP’s anti-democratic agenda, because to include it in their newsgathering risks appearing partial toward the Democrats. (That would be the obvious outcome of reporting that the Republicans are limiting access to the franchise.) The Democrats understand reporters don’t want to hear about the GOP advantages or that federal elections aren’t fair. So people who speak for the Democrats talk about a future in which the GOP looks older, whiter and more out of touch.

That might make a different if all things were equal.

Thing is, they aren’t.

—John Stoehr

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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