Some Republican insiders are likely patting themselves on the back today, as news broke Thursday that the GOP is training male candidates on how to speak to women. Eager to avoid another Todd Akin “legitimate rape” situation, the GOP is (at last) trying to get a hold of a real, problem reaching women voters. It’s certainly a step in the right direction; however, shrinking the gender gap and getting more women to value limited government is going to take more than polite talk.
The hideous comments made by Akin and others during the 2012 election cycle didn’t help anything; but they became front page news because of the GOP's general disconnect with – if not disregard for – women voters.
If the GOP hopes to win back women – and in 2010 the GOP closed the gender gap for the first time in two decades, setting off the "War on Women" narrative – they need to embrace gender differences and be prepared to respond to a robust Progressive “women’s agenda,” which includes universal pre-K, increasing the minimum wage, expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and passing the Paycheck Fairness Act.
I’m fairly confident most Republican candidates are not yet prepared to respond to these proposals – you’ll recall Gov. Romney tripping up terribly when asked about Lilly Ledbetter during the campaign – nor do they have a positive vision to put forth to women.
Bottom line: Republicans don’t just need etiquette training. They need to fundamentally understand and be able to communicate on a range of issues concerning women.
Take mandated leave time: If anyone values time off, it’s a working mother. She may need time off to have a baby, to attend to a sick child, or to care for an aging parent. The problem is that the FMLA – and Sen. Gillibrand’s proposed expansion – has serious problems. Contrary to what Democrats would have you believe, expanding FMLA creates inflexibility in the workplace and actually limits worker’s options.
But the GOP needs to say much more – it can’t just be the party of no. Discrimination exists and time off is necessary, but government is not best equipped to solve the problem. And trying to do so will ultimately hurt the economy, result in fewer jobs, generate more lawsuits, and create less flexibility for all workers. They might emphasize that businesses have an interest in creating fair workplace standards and that women – who are now outpacing men educationally and make up nearly 50 percent of the workforce – are an extremely valuable part of the labor market. (Also see experimental research related to the Paycheck Fairness Act here.)
Republicans should also consider that the message that moves a man on an issue is not alway the one that moves a woman. The Independent Women’s Voice conducted research on our serious national debt problem. A message focused on reforming entitlements was effective with women, while a message focused on spending increased support for broad budget constraints among both men and women.
Teaching candidates not to say stupid things might keep them out of the fire; but they need to do much more than simply avoid devastating gaffes. The GOP doesn’t have to sugar-coat things or use lavender print on all their mailings to reach women; but they do need to consider how men and women are different, and make use of the policies, messages, and messengers that they know appeal to women. That also means doing the kind of rigorous research the left has been engaged in for years in order to discover which tactics are most effective.
[Shameless plug: One group is trying to do this right now. The Independent Women’s Forum has launched an end-of-the-year campaign to push back on the War on Women narrative and change the conversation.]