The Hill: Yes, the GOP has a woman problem — yes, it can be solved

Opinion Published July 26, 2019 by Rebecca Schuller, Executive Director of Winning for Women

Last year’s midterm elections saw the number of Republican women in the U.S. House fall from 22 to 13, a 25-year low. Knowing this is a crisis level number, Republicans across the country have launched a broad effort to elect more women to office. I’m proud to be a part of this effort—but so far, we’re off to a rocky start.

In the congressional runoff in North Carolina’s 3rd District, Republicans marshalled considerable support and financial backing for Dr. Joan Perry – a sharp, talented physician-turned-politician with solid conservative chops. But she lost by nearly 21 percent to yet another sharp, talented physician-turned-politician. Only he was a man.

For many left-leaning readers, this might seem to be more evidence that the right is no place for women. Not so fast. Republican women exist in large numbers, and we’re proud to be a part of shaping the conservative movement for the better.

Nonetheless, there is no question that the GOP has a problem with women – and that much of it starts at the top. President Trump’s approval rating has a gender gap of 13 points. Even down ballot, polling shows that 60 percent of women now lean democratic.

But the lack of women voters can’t fully account for why female candidates like Dr. Perry keep losing. Ninety percent of the 120 Republican women who ran for the House in 2018 lost. As someone deeply involved, I have my views about what is taking place – and I believe the problem is equal parts institutional and cultural.

Institutionally, Republicans lack the necessary support infrastructure for women candidates. The Democrats don’t have this problem. They have a robust recruitment system that has prioritized getting women out of primaries, and organizations like EMILY’s List, which spent over $100 million in 2018 alone.

In many ways, Republicans are playing catch-up. I run Winning For Women Action Fund, a new organization aiming to support as many Republican women, with as many resources, and as early in their races as possible. Our early support for Dr. Perry helped her through a field of 17 candidates to a runoff. This was solid proof of concept.

But Dr. Perry’s ultimate defeat suggests that a piece is missing. We can’t simply follow the left’s playbook because we face other realities that are unique to our side. And that leads me to the cultural aspects of the problem.

For one, two-thirds of Republican voters don’t believe that women are underrepresented in office to begin with. Republican leaders have a job to do in simply convincing voters that there is a problem. And quite frankly, we will never be successful without the leadership of the men in our party. Further, women like Dr. Perry have found themselves up against a misperception among GOP primary voters that female candidates are by default more moderate than men. We need to do more to demonstrate that women are every bit as ideologically diverse.

Finally, we must quell conservative concerns that the push for more GOP women is somehow a concession to the left’s concept of identity politics. It isn’t. The best candidate should always win, regardless of his or her gender. But too often, misperceptions about women candidates have prevented the better candidate from winning. The aim of organizations like Winning For Women Action Fund is not to give women candidates an unfair advantage, but to give them an equal opportunity to make their case.

The fact is that the country is seeking diversity of all kinds in leadership, and rightfully so in a representative democracy like ours. Americans want to see a Congress that looks and sounds more like them. There is nothing liberal or conservative about that idea – just American.

Of course, it’s also smart politics, and absolutely necessary for the future of the party. Women leaders will be better able to make the case to other women that a limited government and a free economy are the best path to equal opportunity for women and girls, and that conservative ideals like strong families, national security, and the rule of law are in the interests of all.

Millions of women already believe this. We need as many of them as possible to heed our call: Their time to lead is now. They must not be discouraged by the losses of women who came before them. Our movement is young, and each defeat has made us wiser. Women can trust Republicans to invest in their futures like never before.

No more waiting in line, no more ceding our party’s message to the men. Run for it.

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