“Women are the backbone of the Republican Party,” Lee Ague wrote in 1966. She should know. Ague organized women to Bake for Barry Goldwater, Barbecue for Bo Callaway, and register new Republican voters in Georgia and other southern states. As the backbone, women held up the Republican Party with voter registration drives, education campaigns, phone banks, bake sales, county fair booths, letter writing, candidate shuttling, and the other unpaid, unseen labor of campaigns.
Now the most recent Pew Research poll shows Hillary Clinton up an astounding 24 points among women.
The GOP is spineless. They have lost the women that held up the party for so long.
In February, then-candidate John Kasich boasted that in his first campaign, women “left their kitchens” to work for him. He rightly received criticism for assuming women had been in the kitchen in the first place. However, he also neglected to recognize the kitchen as a powerful political organizing space. In doing so, Kasich disparaged the political work of conservative women who, for generations, have baked brownies for fundraisers and baked cakes to leave for legislators. A popular anti-ERA tactic was the Valentine’s Day luncheon of home-cooking, prepared by women in their kitchens.
In 1978, Emma Hinesley finally got tired of seeing her Georgia 3rd district GOP candidate dressing like a clown. She went out and bought a navy blue sport coat and black socks, explaining that no one would take a man in white socks as a serious congressman. After two unsuccessful runs, Newt Gingrich finally won.
Hinesley and Ague, like countless other GOP women, were housewives who used carpools as opportunities to register voters. PTA meetings provided opportunities to lobby for education reform. Doctors appointments became exercises in health care policy. Ague argued that the weekly grocery shopping kept women more in touch with economic trends. Bringing home the bacon paled next to buying the bacon and stretching it to feed all the family.
In a 1994 interview, Donald Trump said that “putting a wife to work is a very dangerous thing.” He’s missing that women put themselves to work putting men into office.
With a 24 point gender gap, the Republicans should be trying to figure out where the women are and how to get them back. The trouble is that the women who have always done the work of registering and educating voters have moved away from the GOP this year. The GOP is slumping. They have lost their backbone.
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