In the understatement of the century, the New York Times reports that “Republicans acknowledge that their communication on women’s issues has been inadequate.” Their solution involves training candidates to try putting a sheen on their unappealing policies:
It was not on the public schedule for the Republican National Committee’s spring meeting at the stately Peabody Hotel in downtown Memphis. But inside a conference room, a group of conservative women held a boot camp to strengthen an unlikely set of skills: how to talk about abortion.
They have conducted a half-dozen of these sessions around the country this year, from Richmond, Va., to Madison, Wis. Coaches point video cameras at the participants and ask them to talk about why they believe abortion is wrong.
It’s insulting but not surprising that Republicans think they can appease women by distracting from their unpopular agenda. But the ideas laid out in the article fall flat:
- Purge “rape” from their vocabulary. One consultant tells Republicans that rape is a “four-letter word” and they need to avoid talking about it. Another says to keep all remarks to two sentences. Obviously, they are trying to avoid the improvised rambling that leads to remarks like Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comment. I’d like to start the countdown clock now on the first offensive comment, because I’m sure they won’t be able to keep all of their candidates in line given the parade of misogyny we’ve seen so far. More important, not talking about rape isn’t going to make it go away. The fact of the matter is that these politicians support draconian restrictions on abortion that don’t even include exceptions for women who have been raped, and silence doesn’t change that.
- Hey, look over there! Another recommended tactic is to try to turn the question around and deflect. Former member of Congress Marilyn Musgrave says,“Put them on their heels. Ask them: ‘Exactly when in a pregnancy do you think abortion should be banned?’” I would love to see a back and forth where a candidate repeats this like a broken record. Given the energy around these issues, I’m sure candidates will face pointed questioning, and “I know you are but what am I?” doesn’t cut it. At some point they’re going to have to acknowledge that they don’t want to let women and their doctors make decisions without government interference.
- Pretend reproductive rights aren’t part of women’s health. One of the most insulting recommendations is to try to redefine women’s health and dismiss the legitimacy of reproductive care. Kellyanne Conway, a Republican pollster, says, “Women’s health issues are osteoporosis or breast cancer or seniors living alone who don’t have enough money for health care.” Sorry, 99% of women. Your ability to decide when and if you have children is just not relevant. Access to reproductive care has huge impacts on women’s health, career prospects, economic security and more, and dismissing those very real concerns isn’t going to bring any women over to the GOP side.
- Have women deliver the message. One candidate says, “The best way to talk about the life issue is to have female candidates talk about it,” and that Republicans need to learn to talk about the issues in a more “humane” way. But women aren’t lemmings who follow anyone in a skirt suit. We’re smart enough to know that there are pro-choice men and anti-choice women. While I’ve often advocated getting more women and people of color into office because of their lived experience, that’s clearly not a guarantee. Women don’t like having their rights stomped on, no matter who’s doing the stomping.
These recommendations are about what you’d expect from a party that’s also discussing appealing to women by bring policy “down to a woman’s level.” When it comes to women’s health or any other set of issues, women want substance and aren’t going to be assuaged by condescending talking points or distractions.
The most important thing for pro-choice activists here is that Republicans feel serious vulnerability on these issues. We’ve already seen how powerful attacks on reproductive rights can be in Colorado Senate candidate Cory Gardner’s transparent attempt to pretend he supports contraception access. This election cycle, we must be persistent and aggressive in exposing these candidates’ anti-choice views and making sure all voters understand what’s at stake.