Lately I’ve been talking with high-powered Republican women about the various efforts under way to address the party’s Women Problem. Some projects are focused on the grassroots, some on messaging, and some on upping the enthusiasm of ladies with the wherewithal to write big-ass checks. Republican women in the House, through the new program GROW (Growing Republican Opportunities for Women), have even begun playing in primary battles to support female candidates, a strategy generally frowned upon by party officials, who prefer to stay out of primaries. In short, hard-charging gals in the upper echelons of the GOP are excruciatingly aware of the ways their team needs to adjust in order to close its gender gap. More than one such player I spoke with has voiced exasperation along the lines of, “Our party has an issue with this.”
With that in mind, one has to wonder: what will the ongoing shutdown circus do to Republicans’ already shaky relationship with women?
The polls are clear about the American people’s view of the shutdown: they hate it. And for all Ted Cruz & Co.’s efforts to blame President Obama for what Fox News is now adorably referring to as the government “slimdown,” the nation ain’t buying it. Many more folks are inclined to chalk this mess up to a congressional hissy fit than a presidential one.
That’s the bad news for Republicans. The worse news? Dig deeper into the numbers, and you find that women are even less jazzed about this whole defund-Obamacare-or-we’ll-blow-up-the-economy business than men. Some of the polls show only a slight difference. Quinnipiac’s latest, for instance, shows 25 percent of men supporting a shutdown, versus 19 percent of women. Others show a more sizable spread: a mid-September CNBC poll had 26 percent of men backing the defund-Obamacare-even-if-requires-shutdown-and-default option, but only 12 percent of women. Similarly, CNN found that 33 percent of men but only 20 percent of women thought that shutting down “for a few days” would be “a good thing.” (CNN also found that women are more likely than men to blame congressional Republicans for the mess, 50 to 43 percent.)
So what, you may say. Women as a whole skew less Republican than men do. (See: that whole Women Problem.) It only stands to reason that they would express less enthusiasm about a GOP-fueled shutdown.
That’s true—but it’s also what makes the Republican-focused polling by David Winston so intriguing. In an early August survey conducted for GOP members of Congress, Winston found that Republicans nationwide opposed the shutdown, 53 percent to 37 percent. When he sliced the responses by gender, however, he found a whopping disparity: Republican men favored the shutdown 48 to 44 percent; Republican women overwhelmingly opposed it, 61 to 29 percent. So much for the GOP taking seriously the views of its own women.
Very few of the Republican gals I reached out to this week were eager to talk about the shutdown. Most expressed discomfort or dismay over the whole spectacle. Others stressed that, among the folks they know, both genders are equally convinced that the congressional intransigents are a bunch of counterproductive yahoos. “I think what Ted Cruz says is an equal-opportunity offender,” fumed one veteran fundraiser, who noted that her sons also have “a fairly violent” reaction to the Texas senator’s ravings. “Maybe when people see the stories of sick children turned away from NIH it tugs more on women’s heart strings,” she allowed. “But I like to think it would horrify my husband as well.”
When we’re talking about political antics opposed by so very many Americans, it may seem odd to parse who among us really, really opposes them the most. Then again, we are also talking about a Republican Party that needs all the help it can get with the ladies—a party whose women leaders are laboring fiercely to convince other women to donate more, to volunteer more, to run for office, or at the very least to reject the stereotype of the GOP as a pack of angry, extremist white guys.
However it pans out, this miserable shutdown is not going to help their cause.