Re: ‘War on Women’ 2.0

by Andrew Stiles

My piece on the homepage is about the Democrats’ continued effort to disparage the Republican brand among women voters, in the hope that it will pay dividends in 2014 and beyond.

I asked pollster and strategist Kellyanne Conway, who recently addressed House Republicans at their retreat in January, what the GOP could do to alter this dynamic.

“The White House has realized that Obama is seen as compassionate, but not competent, by most Americans,” she said in an e-mail. This is reflected in polling data, which consistently show that although voters may not approve of Obama’s handling of the economy, they give him high marks for personality, and whether he ‘cares about people like you.’”

The White House plays to these strengths, Conway said, by “cherry-picking issues that leverage emotion, tug at the heartstrings, conjure fear and outrage, and make for clever titles,” such as the “Violence Against Women Act,” the “Paycheck Fairness Act,” and catchy sound bites such as the “deserve a vote” refrain at the end of Obama’s State of the Union address.

“This is a raw play for female support, as women tend to gravitate toward issues that suggest fairness, protection, and security, and of course, anything that concerns children or the most vulnerable,” she said.

Conway has several suggestions for how Republicans can counter this strategy. First, go on offense. “Some savvy Republican ought to go viral with a simple claim: that all of this is not meant to protect women, but to insult them,” she said. Rather than try to out-pander Democrats, the GOP should reject the notion of “women’s issues.”

“All issues are women’s issues, and the Republicans ought to own that phrase,” she said. “Otherwise, they are complicit in the narrowcasting to women, and implicitly support the premise that women only care about matters from the waist-down.”

Similarly, Conway believes Republicans should stop letting Democrats get away with their pointed use of the phrase “women’s health,” which is simply liberal shorthand for abortion and birth control. Many women, for example, are more likely to regard the half-billion dollars in taxpayer support for Planned Parenthood as “a sop to special interests, not advancement of ‘women’s health,’” Conway said.

Republicans should try to “recapture the magic” of 2010, when the GOP actually outperformed Democrats among women — for the first time since pollsters have the relevant data — by successfully raising voter concerns about the size and scope of government, and running against the Obama agenda, “but not against Obama himself.”

A lot could still happen between now and the 2014 midterms, but Conway said retaking the House would likely be “a tough slog” for Democrats. “Part of that is because of the high number of safe seats on both sides, but a larger part is an underappreciated irony: the most hard-core body of Republicans — the House — are the only ones in the majority,” she said. “Voters reward and retain the one group that sticks to its principles.”

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