If the election were held today Team Romney would be in big trouble in the women demographic. As this excellent Slate article describes, the War on Women begin in 2011 with the No Tax Payer Funding for Abortion Act (which gave us the term "forcible rape") and the term was then picked up by Debbie Wasserman Schultz who started using it when Planned Parenthood was attacked. The meme gained steam with various (often unpopular) personhood amendments (such as the one shot down in Mississippi) and various trans-vaginal ultrasound bills. At one point Reince Priebus said that if the Democrats said the Republicans had a War on Caterpillars the media would be talking about the GOP's problems with caterpillars (which produced the sadly predictable: ZOMG! He compared women to caterpillars!!)
The Slate article declares the War on Women (as a meme) dead:
In her fateful CNN appearance, right before she evaluated Ann Romney’s economics cred, Hilary Rosen begged the media to “just get rid of this word, ‘war on women.’ ” After all, “the Obama campaign does not use it, President Obama does not use it—this is something that the Republicans are accusing people of using.”If only.
The problem for Romney is not that Democrats have been harping The War on Women meme against the RNC--which they have, despite what the Slate article implies--it's that whatever is going on, Romney is deep in the hole with women in real life.
This is no joke: the bottom deficit (which is echoed by many other polls) is fatal (should it persist). It's also not the first time he has faced this particular problem:
In the Republican primary, Janet Jeghelian had touted her ability to exploit Kennedy’s “trouble with women.” Romney, chiseled and wholesome, might have thought he could do the same by highlighting his evident devotion to his picturesque family. “They made a real point to paint him as a really dedicated family man and husband,” says Scott Helman, co-author of The Real Romney. “He really cast himself as a Kennedy foil.”The problem is two-fold: the first is that there are some GOP positions (such as making abortion illegal in the case of rape and incest) that are, legitimately, problematic with women. The second is that adopting "women's issues" as a platform is not going to endear Romney to a base that already is suspicious of him. There is not a great deal of unclaimed territory on prominent "Women's issues" where Mitt can move in without triggering the Etch-a-Sketch meme.
None of it mattered. When the election came, Kennedy crushed Romney among women, winning their votes by more than two to one.
This puts Team Romney in a bit of a corner. To wit:: his adviser got caught flat-footed on a question on the Lilly Ledbetter Act:
"Does Governor Romney support the Lilly Ledbetter Act?"
Six seconds went by. "Sam," an unidentified voice replied, "we'll have to get back to you on that."
The Ledbetter Act, the first piece of legislation President Obama signed in 2009, expanded the ability for citizens to sue their employers for unfair pay. Passing Congress with only three Republican votes (all in the House), it was a big win for Mr. Obama with women, in no small part because while anyone can sue his or her employer for pay issues, Ms. Ledbetter was a woman and the case had picked up many prominent backers among women's rights organizations.
So the question put the Romney people in a vise. Republicans, whom former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney must convince he isn't a mushy moderate, despise the law. Women, whom current polling tells us are going to vote for Barack Obama in droves, love it.So How Does Romney Fight The War on The WAR on Women?
The first counter-offensive was "No! No--it's the Democrats! They're the ones waging the WAR ON WOMEN!" In addition to referencing some Bill Maher based rhetoric (which was not all that convincing) Team Romney had launched this counter-offensive: The 92% attack: The claim that the "real" war on women is being run by Obama whose policies have lost all kinds of jobs, 92% of which are women's!
I want to note that I went looking for a Team Romney quote that was not some mainstream media press outlet bashing it. I had to go to like page 3 of Google with "92% Romney" as my search-string. I then went to the Romney.com website and was unable to find a reasonable image to copy-paste to the blog. I had to download the PDF, take snapshot, save as a PNG, and upload it to Blogger. What the heck, Team Romney!?
This counter-strike launched like a North Korean Satellite/Ballistic Nuclear Missile. While modestly factual it was roundly dubbed misleading and even (gloriously, for Orwellian double-speak) "TRUE but FALSE" by one fact-checker outlet. Team Romney complained. PolitiFact said:
We considered the Romney campaign's complaints but do not see any evidence that warrants changing our ruling.Worse, some analysis say: Those female jobs lost? Government jobs. None of this is strictly fair or convincing (are we supposed to be surprised the main-stream media doesn't think much of Romney's latest info-graphic!?) but to be equally fair Team Romney's 92% Attack does not seem to be meant to be taken seriously either (are we expected to believe that Obama doesn't actually want everyone back at work to give him his next four years!? HOW ELSE WILL HE BAN FIREARMS!?).
The other economists agreed the statement was misleading and, for the most part, said it wrongly blamed Obama for broad trends that were part of a long, deep recession.
Yes: the economy has been bad for women. As a point for Romeny that's fine: he's saying he's better on the economy (for everyone) than Obama. But in context to the War on Women? It's making it sound like he's claiming that Obama went around cutting women from payrolls. A political attack ad should not inspire a "What do you take me for!?" reaction on the part of the reader.
The Flag Maneuver
Back in 2000 when Bush and Gore were slugging it out for President of the United States each of them gave successive press conferences appearing before ever-larger numbers of American flags. Whoever had the most flags WOULD WIN!? Amirite? With Obama appearing in front of a bunch of women, Romney did the same in Hartford:
If this worked, Quadaffi, who gave a speech to an auditorium in Italy he had packed to the gills with attractive women would be like BEST WOMEN'S RIGHTS GUY GOING.
Still, eh: whatever. You can't blame a guy for trying. (remember how much crap Obama took for not wearing a flag pin?)
Enter The Rosen
But then Team Romney caught a break: Hilary Rosen said on Anderson 360 that Ann Romney might not be the best person to make statements about how jobs concern women because she "had never worked a day in her life." Ka-Boom. From Eric Fehrnstrom's Twitter feed:
The condemnation from the right was instant and unanimous (Michelle Malkin noted that Hilary Rosen had been able to do what Romney had not: unify the party!). There were allegations that Rosen was a DNC operative (kinda. Not exactly an Obama adviser). Ann Romney responded she had raised five kids--you think that's not work? And so on.
There it was--handed to Team Romney on a platter. Let's take a count:
- Raising kids is work. Being a mom is work. Yes, Ann Romney has all kinds of advantages many of us don't--but unless it comes out that she had to ask her cadre of nannies the names of her kids, the statement that she had "never worked a day in her life" is bullshit. Read this excellent post on the matter.
- This plays directly into the narrative that feminist liberal democrats (which is all of them, AMIRITE?) disparage stay-at-home moms. Is that universally true? No. Is it "true enough to hurt?" You betcha. Because this dovetails with an existing narrative it has way, way more power than if, for example, Rosen had said that Romney was going to start a nuclear war with Russia or some nonsense. Wherever you fall on the "what do feminists / democrats / liberals really think about stay-at-home moms" thing is irrelevant: it had enough mindshare to pop.
- And pop it did: The optics on attacking Ann Romney are terrible. Here's a despicable list of deplorable people saying degenerate things about Ann Romney on Twitter. Yes, people say horrible things all the time. Yes Obama, the Democrats, etc. are not responsible for what some asshole tweets. That's all true--but the optics, man, the optics. Ann Romney isn't Michelle Obama. She isn't even Sarah Palin. Attacking her looks bad. Bad enough that Team Obama did, in fact, immediately call for an apology (They have yet to do that with Bill Maher. Maybe if Rosen donates 1MM they'll be okay with it?)
- But it wasn't FAIR. Romney was talking about economics and public sector jobs. Being a mom isn't a public sector job. No, it's not. And you know what? If you don't think this is fair you have already lost the conversation. How you interpret this or spin it is irrelevant. It's about the media narrative and going he-said/she-said just doesn't matter even if, on paper, it looks like they're unrelated.
Return of the (Ann) Romney
Going forward, I expect we'll see a lot of Ann Romney doing her part to try to close the gender gap. I'm not sure how effective she will be but I know two things:
- She can't be worse than Mitt herself--and she'll probably be much better.
- So long as she plays her cards right and is a little bit careful she can be in the public eye without being overly political (so long as she sticks to "This is what I'm hearing from women" she should be okay--combined with a little "Here's a personal perspective as a woman on [insert issue].") So long as she doesn't cross the line into political attack mode (calling Obama a socialist, for example) we can be sure that any counter attacks on her will continue to look bad. Maybe bad enough to help her husband in the polls.
What Do I Think?
I don't know what the cycle time on this will be. There is only so much Ann Romney can reasonably do for Mitt without actually becoming a legitimate target. The principals have all mostly apologized and, most importantly, Team Obama has repudiated the comments--which may limit the damage. But the lesson ought to remain: Romney will remain somewhat vulnerable on the women-issue only so long as the Democratic engine doesn't give him space to maneuver.
If he has space, he will likely appear as a pretty moderate guy (to the chagrin of the GOP Base). Comments like Hilary Rosen's give him that space. If Romney is to have a 'Sister Soulja Moment' it will likely be handed to him on a silver platter by the liberals.