Republicans in Congress have issues. Just one of them: The party is severely lacking in female members in comparison to their Democratic counterparts, but even the woman leading the effort to change that can’t seem to shake out why this problem has persisted in the first place.
In an interview with Glamour published today, Rep. Elise Stefanik, a Republican from New York, talked about her leadership PAC’s mission to recruit more Republican women, with a focus on “nontraditional candidates” of racially and geographically diverse backgrounds to compete in primaries. However, when it came to directly naming what aspects of the Republican Party have deterred women from running as Republicans in the first place, Stefanik stopped short.
Recruiting women, Stefanik said, isn’t the challenge—she pointed to the 100 women who initially ran for Congress as Republicans in 2018, while also mentioning that only one new Republican woman was elected to Congress. With her leadership PAC, Stefanik said she wanted to create a conservative EMILY’s List to help invest in and develop women candidates.
But despite the party’s dismal representation of women, she asserted that GOP men, even those in leadership, were on board with her recruitment and retainment efforts. She mentioned Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise and House Minority Leader California Rep. Kevin McCarthy as her top supporters and told Glamour:
I know that there were lots of stories about Rep. Tom Emmer when he said it was a mistake [to recruit women to compete in primaries]. He has since realized and listened that was not the right statement to make. We have to understand we have a problem and promote more Republican women. And then when they get to Congress, we need to elevate their voices.
I think the framing for these men is, “We think Elise is right. We need to focus more on this as a party and we want to support this initiative.” Men in leadership understand the importance of diversity in the party, the importance of winning young voters, winning diverse voters, winning suburban voters. I think they’ve listened. They understand this needs to be a priority.
And would you believe that part of this issue getting worse is because of who’s president? From Glamour again, emphasis mine:
As I’ve said, the issue the Republican Party has had with women voters predates President Trump. I think it’s been magnified with this administration and I do think some of the rhetoric has had an impact. We saw that at the polls in 2018. But I am a Republican and I’m hoping to help define the Republican Party as we head towards the future. But I worked on the Romney-Ryan campaign in 2012, and we lost single professional women ages 18 to 30 by over 30 points. That is a problem, and it’s going to continue after this administration. We have to rebuild our coalition.
But when asked if Republicans’ “returns,” such as the Romney-Ryan campaign’s loss of women voters, made her “question [the GOP’s] policies on issues like reproductive choice or equal pay,” Stefanik said she doesn’t seen any reason why her party’s policies toward women could be to blame. Stefanik’s interview, once more:
It hasn’t caused a crisis of confidence for me. It’s emboldened me to use my voice and help the direction of not only how the party talks about issues, but also what our policy proposals are. I have always been a Republican. I am a strong Republican, and I have a strong record in my district of making a case for why limited government, why strong national security, why equal opportunity is the best model for the future of the country.
Sigh. As a woman of color, I think I get it. Sometimes you feel that you have to appease the people in power in order to get them to work with you, lest you be punished for biting the hand that feeds. But without addressing the root of the issue—which lies in the Republican Party’s DNA—the symptomatically low representation of Republican women in Congress may be the least of their problems.