Democrats have been pushing the idea of a Republican War on Women for years, but over the last several months, as their chances for holding the Senate have diminished, they have increasingly relied on the W.O.W. meme that helped them keep the White House in 2012 and win the Virginia governor’s seat in 2013. The strategy has become so integral to the Democratic party’s 2014 efforts that it has even been used by a male Democratic Senate candidate against his female GOP opponent.
However, on Saturday, that strategy backfired on Senator Mark Warner of Virginia.
During their first debate, Warner asked GOP challenger Ed Gillespie if he would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. Gillespie responded that Roe was a Supreme Court decision, and thus not something the Senate has any authority over.
“I’m running for the United States Senate, Senator,” said Gillespie, with a note of outrage and exasperation. That the federal government has three distinct (and by design, adversarial) branches, and that senators actually can’t vote to “overturn” any Supreme Court decision, is a nuance from before the post-Constitutional era that many observers, including Washington Post reporter Laura Vozzella, didn’t even notice.
But Virginia horse-race blogger Justin Higgins reported, “Warner proved that he doesn’t even know what his job description is.”
It’s certainly true that many politicians don’t know what their job is — to faithfully uphold the Constitution and represent the viewpoints of their constituents within the framework of that document. But Warner’s real goal was to impose the same “War on Women” frame that helped doom 2012 Senate hopefuls Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock.
Fortunately, Gillespie was quick on the uptake, and he avoided the trap in a way that was accurate and consistent with his espoused pro-life principles. It also showed Warner’s tactic to be juvenile.
Higgins tells National Review Online the comments were not only in line with Gillespie’s “solid pro-life track record” — he has helmed the pro-life Republican Party of Virginia and the Republican National Committee — but also “remarkable.” According to Higgins, Gillespie “adeptly saw the ‘War on Women’ trap Warner was trying to set and debunked it with a quick, concise correction about the role of a U.S. senator, a job Warner has had for six years.”
Gillespie also avoided a classic trap of debates: Repeating questions and accusations made by an opponent. As media expert Beverly Hallberg said in May, “People often respond with, ‘I’m not this.’” Hallberg and other experts say this defensiveness often makes a listening audience specifically remember the accusation.
The exchange isn’t likely to change the campaign for Gillespie, who is trailing Warner by more than ten points in all polls and is much further behind in some. But by turning Warner’s question about Roe on its head, and doing so with voice and body language cues that were confident and engaging, Gillespie gave a lesson to pro-life candidates nationwide on how to respond to War on Women traps.
He also made Warner look foolish, but that’s just a bonus.
— Dustin Siggins is the D.C. Correspondent for LifeSiteNews, a former blogger with Tea Party Patriots, and co-author of the forthcoming book Bankrupt Legacy: The Future of the Debt-Paying Generation.