ABC The Drum
Each day that Donald Trump is in the race makes it that much more likely that the GOP's war on women will have an ironic ending: helping to elect America's first woman president, writes
When debate moderator Megyn Kelly asked Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to explain a series of sexist comments he has made over the years, Trump responded with a riff on political correctness.
He ended it with a testy comment aimed at Kelly herself: "And honestly, Megyn, if you don't like it, I'm sorry. I've been very nice to you, although I could probably maybe not be based on the way you have treated me. But I wouldn't do that."
But Trump had a change of heart. The next day, he retweeted someone who called Kelly (a corporate lawyer turned Fox News anchor) a "bimbo". Then, in an interview on CNN, he suggested Kelly had been so aggressive toward him because she was menstruating.
None of this is particularly surprising. Trump, a billionaire reality-television host who owns both the Miss USA and Miss Universe beauty pageants, has a long, long history of sexist comments. What is new are the problems his comments have created for the Republican Party — problems that will linger long after Trump fades from the race.
In 2012, President Barack Obama won the women's vote by 12 points — a margin that contributed to the largest gender gap in the Gallup poll's history. In the Growth and Opportunity Project report (the Republican Party's post-mortem of the 2012 election), Republican researchers concluded that the party "must improve its efforts" among women if it were to win national elections in the future.
With Hillary Clinton as the likely Democratic nominee, the GOP already faces a greater disadvantage among women voters going into 2016.
Trump's comments exacerbate this problem. Not because Trump will be the eventual nominee (he won't), but because his remarks, and his surge in the polls following them, make the Republican Party look fiercely anti-woman. Just as Todd Akin's comments about "legitimate rape" hobbled Mitt Romney in 2012, Trump's obscenities will badly damage the party's eventual standard-bearer. Fifteen months before the election, it's clear that the war on women is back — and it's increasingly looking less like an electoral battle and more like a GOP suicide pact.
But Trump's remarks are more than a rhetoric problem. They're a policy problem.
When a party embraces policies that seem to harm women's interests, it faces a tricky balancing act. Candidates who oppose certain policies aimed at helping women — for instance, policies on pay equity, the availability of contraception, and the prevention of domestic violence — can plausibly present their positions as a matter of governing philosophy.
But when a candidate makes an offensive comment about women — whether it's about sex or rape or menstruation — this makes the task much harder. It signals that these anti-woman policies are rooted not in the philosophical but the primal, some blend of ignorance and disgust that tarnishes both the candidate and the party as a whole.
This is ultimately a reap-what-you-sow issue. The Republican Party has benefited for years from an engaged base that has shown an appetite for anti-establishment populism, the grittier the better. Republican electioneering and conservative media have both nurtured that appetite, and now it is wedging the party itself.
A political class desperate to broaden the party's appeal has found itself consistently undermined by a conservative base that hamstrings every attempt to reach out to Hispanics and women (and by extension young people and moderates opposed to identity-based bigotry).
None of this is to say it is impossible for a Republican candidate to win the presidency in 2016. Hillary Clinton's nomination would be unprecedented, and national politics can be unpredictable. But each day that Trump is in the race makes it that much more likely that the GOP's war on women will have an ironic ending: helping to elect America's first woman president.
This article was originally published at ABC The Drum