I'll give Republicans credit for this: they keep trying to figure out why their party remains unappealing to large and important groups of voters. They've been mulling over their problem with Latino voters for some time, and now Politico has gotten a hold of a study commissioned by some GOP bigwigs to figure out why women keep giving more of their votes to Democrats:
But in Washington, Republican policies have failed to sway women — in fact, they appear to have turned women off. For example, the focus groups and polls found that women "believe that 'enforcing equal pay for equal work' is the policy that would 'help women the most.'"
"Republicans who openly deny the legitimacy of the issue will be seen as out of touch with women's life experiences," the report warned, hinting at GOP opposition to pay-equity legislation. It's the policy item independents and Democrats believe will help women the most.
The groups suggest a three-pronged approach to turning around their relationship with women. First, they suggest the GOP "neutralize the Democrats'" attack that Republicans don't support fairness for women. They suggest Republican lawmakers criticize Democrats for "growing government programs that encourage dependency rather than opportunities to get ahead." That message tested better than explaining that the GOP supports a number of policies that could help fairness for women.
The last time a Republican presidential candidate won a majority of women's votes was 1988, and it's hard to see it happening again soon unless there's a huge blowout. While it's all well and good to investigate the issue to try to understand it in as much detail as possible, I have some bad news for Republicans: This isn't a problem they're going to be able to solve.
That's because both their policies and their attitudes are working against them. It isn't just that Republicans oppose reproductive rights, though that doesn't help. And it isn't just that they oppose mandating contraceptive coverage in insurance, though that doesn't help either. It's that when they articulate those policy positions and others like them, they can't keep themselves from doing so in the most hostile, contemptuous ways imaginable. That doesn't apply to all of them, of course; maybe not even most of them. But any debate about an issue affecting women in particular is 100-percent guaranteed to feature at least a few prominent conservatives, including those who have their own radio and television programs, saying loudly that the women who disagree with the Republican position are sluts and whores. That's just how they roll.
Karl Rove can say to his compatriots, "Let's ease up on the 'legitimate rape' stuff, fellas," but unfortunately for him and the other people who spend time thinking about the GOP's challenges, a party can't speak with one voice. Whenever a discussion starts about an issue like equal pay, everybody gets to weigh in, from the most sober senator to the most rabid Tea Partier to the most hateful talk radio host. And since we now have a highly developed outrage industrial complex, the appalling comments will be repeated and distributed, ensuring that everyone hears them. And even when they aren't being outright offensive, Republicans are more likely to communicate their believe in condescending, outdated gender norms.
All of which means that the idea that Republicans are none too friendly to women is constantly reinforced, in ways both substantive and emotional. If you're a woman, you're not happy when the Republican party blocks equal pay legislation. But when you then hear some of them try to argue that the wage gap isn't really a problem in the first place, and maybe you should just be staying at home with your kids anyway, well that's going to really piss you off. And having a bunch of GOP bros tell you that they're the real pro-women party because they don't want people to depend on government isn't going to go too far to change that.
Now take all that, and imagine what the atmosphere will be like if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee in 2016. There will be a tsunami of misogynistic hate directed at Clinton, which we know because she's always generated a particularly ugly brand of male sexual panic in conservatives. If she's actually threatening to become president, it'll be worse than ever. In the face of that, the Republicans who try to argue that their party has something to offer women voters are going to get laughed right out of the voting booth.