Opinion Columns & Blogs

Margaret Carlson: Republicans still don’t know what women want

The Republican Party spent much of its winter meeting last week adopting reforms suggested by its 2013 selfie, which was a snapshot of all that is wrong with the party (”scary,” “narrow minded,” dominated by “stuffy old men,” and unlikely to win nationally unless it attracts minorities and women).

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has unfurled his plan to fix all that. Truncate the number of primaries and limit those that are winner-take-all? Check. Have fewer debates with fewer clowns on stage? Check. Coronate the nominee at a convention that is held in early summer rather than around Labor Day? Check.

The party is also at pains to be done with its “we’re just not that into you” attitude toward women. The campaign committee is holding remedial classes to teach male candidates how to talk to female voters and how to run against a woman, a challenge they are very likely to face in 2016. You’re in a deep hole if you don’t know how to talk to more than half the electorate, but you have to start somewhere.

That effort was undercut when former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was given a plum speaking role at the meeting.

You’ve got to hand it to Huckabee for vividness. He created a new character for women to ponder: Uncle Sugar. “If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it,” he said.

Yuck! In 2012, women went against the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, 55 percent to 44 percent. Huckabee could help push that to 60-40.

The party shouldn’t be surprised by Huckabee. He was the last and loudest supporter of former Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri, whose confusion about female anatomy cost him a 2012 Senate race. Akin mused over what constituted “legitimate rape” and how women came equipped with a built-in defense against getting pregnant if attacked.

Such thoughts don’t pop out of nowhere. They are in the Republican atmosphere just waiting to be blurted out.

As with Holocaust comparisons in almost any context, women and their reproductive systems should be off-limits to male Republicans. Remember when talk show host Rush Limbaugh, the party’s unofficial leader, said that a woman who thought contraception should be covered by insurance was a “slut”? (Viagra, by the way, is covered in many policies.)

Huckabee’s remarks followed by just a few days an attack on Wendy Davis, the Texas gubernatorial candidate, who suddenly was a bad woman for getting divorced at 21, rather than 19, as she’d said. In addition, because she had help from her second husband, Republicans accused her of lying about her up- from-the-bootstraps story. Would any male politician be questioned about his mettle and pluck if he was aided by his stay-at-home wife?

For all his plans to broaden the party’s appeal, Priebus came off as a halfhearted reformer. Huckabee’s “good message,” he said, was “overshadowed by a choice of words that was just a little bit off, that’s all.”

Republicans don’t have an answer to Freud’s timeless question about what women want, but they sure know how to jump on what they don’t want.