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Friday, December 9, 2016

The Republican Party has a problem with women, and it knows it.

President Obama won female voters decisively in 2012, and recent polls suggest that Democrats are maintaining that edge (a CNN/ORC survey from February, for example, found that 59 percent of women say the GOP does not understand them). Meanwhile, various Republican politicians — including at least one genuine presidential contender — seem unwilling or unable to stop saying things that confirm these voters’ worst fears. Worse yet, Republicans in Congress are using their votes to block legislation addressing topics that motivate women, such as closing the gender pay gap and raising the minimum wage.

In an effort to turn the tide, on Monday the Republican National Committee announced its latest effort to reach out to women: a new program that would solicit women to volunteer 30 minutes per week in the 14 weeks before Election Day. The Associated Press reports:

The Republican National Committee plans to [introduce] a new initiative, “14 in ’14,” to recruit and train women under age 40 to help spread the party’s message in the final 14 weeks of the campaign.

Representatives from all the party committees — the RNC and those supporting GOP candidates for Senate, House, governors and state legislators — meet regularly to plan strategy and advise candidates.

They are encouraging candidates to include their wives and daughters in campaign ads, have women at their events and build a Facebook-like internal database of women willing to campaign on their behalf.

To recap: One week ago, House Republicans were accusing Democrats of “politicizing women” and using them as “pawns” by introducing legislation that would address the gender pay gap. Today, the RNC’s official advice to Republican candidates is to put their wives and daughters in campaign ads.

In fairness, that’s not all that Republicans hope to do; the AP further clarifies that they intend to attack the White House’s own gender pay gap (a very questionable political play), and accuse the Obama administration of supporting cuts to Medicare — presumably without mentioning the Ryan budget.

The 14 in ’14 plan is just the latest in a series of dubious RNC attempts to shore up Republicans’ numbers with women. First, there was the “Growth and Opportunity Project,” which has fallen miles short of its goal of “developing a forward-leaning vision for voting Republican that appeals to women.”

Then there was Project GROW, an intiative to recruit Republican women to run for office (which fell completely flat, leaving the GOP with even fewer female candidates than before).

Now there’s 14 in ’14, which seems destined for failure as well. The reason is simple: Women aren’t turning away from the GOP because of insufficient outreach, or poor messaging (although that certainly doesn’t help). They are turning away because the GOP platform would actively harm them.

A recent report from Democracy Corps and Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund identified (through surveys and focus groups) a number of policies that would motivate unmarried women to go to the polls and vote for candidates who adopt them. Among others, they include making sure that women get equal work for equal pay, stopping insurance companies from charging women more than men, raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, and protecting Medicare to ensure that there is no reduction in benefits. Democrats actively support these policies, and Republicans actively oppose them. Until that changes, more volunteer hours and family-friendly ads seem unlikely to make a major difference.

Republicans may not need to make major changes to win big gains in the 2014 midterms. But unless the GOP finds a way to bring female voters into the fold, it will continue to have big problems in national elections — and cosmetic reform like 14 in ’14 isn’t going to get the job done.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

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