Over the past few months the news cycle has been dominated by stories of Democratic women, enraged by Hillary Clinton’s loss and the election of an outright misogynist, taking the fate of the government in their own hands and running for office across the country.
In October Emily’s List announced that 20,000 women had decided to run on the Democratic ticket in the upcoming election cycle (and that number remains on the rise), and in November Democratic women swept local and state elections in places like Virginia and New Jersey. This is a revolution in the making. But as it is with our polarized country, the progress only seems to be coming from one side. According to data from the Rutgers University Center for American Women and Politics, only 14 Republican women have announced their candidacy for U.S. Senate seats, compared to 27 Democratic women. The discrepancy in House races is even more extreme, with 302 Democratic women seeking office as compared to only 67 Republican women.
With the 2018 midterms less than a year away, and a Republican party in the midst of a civil war, the question is whether women on the right will step up to the plate, too? And, if not , what’s holding them back?
“Seeing the kind of stuff that people are fighting for in the (state) legislature, and how irrelevant it is to women, is really disheartening, and it turns off a lot of women to the Republican Party,” says Elizabeth Haynie, a 22-year-old conservative Republican and a political communications major at the University of Texas at Austin. Though she is not currently running for office at this time, she is considering running in the future, and her resume is padded with experience campaigning for Texas Republicans.
“I think that there needs to be a major social mover, a woman who just comes out of the woodwork and really charts a path for women. I haven’t seen anyone really take the national consciousness there,” she says. “It’s really sad, but there really isn’t a figurehead for the movement for the empowerment of women who are Republican. We need a figurehead to look up to, someone who is larger than life.”
According to Clare Bresnahan English, the executive director of She Should Run, a nonpartisan nonprofit that acts as an incubator for future female leaders on both sides of the aisle, Haynie’s concerns are not unheard of. The majority of She Should Run’s members are millennials between the ages of 25 and 35, she says, and like Haynie, the Republicans among them have expressed concerns with the low-priority that the GOP has placed on issues that are important to their demographic, such as increased opportunities within the entrepreneurial marketplace, income inequality and antitrust laws.
“Talking with a lot of our Republican stakeholders and our Republican members…it is a difficult time to be a young Republican woman,” Bresnahan English said in an interview with Refinery29. “They have different policy perspectives, and it’s been difficult for them to find exactly what the right place is for them in terms of party infrastructure.”
The GOP is not unaware of the issue. Rep. Elise Stefanik was 30 years old when she was first elected to Congress in 2014 and is currently the youngest person serving in Congress. When she was named the first woman to head recruitment for the National Republican Congressional Committee back in January, there was speculation that the GOP was hoping to attract younger women to the party. “I’m proud to say that we have 22 announced female candidates in federal races, and I’ve had conversations with well over 50 women who are either still making their decision to run for Congress or are considering it. “
Bresnahan-English pointed to Stefanik and her Republican colleague, Rep. Martha McSally as women with potential to become politicians whom young Republican women could look up to as “they are setting out a new path and example of leadership.” The other woman’s who name often comes up is Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and current U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
Nevertheless, Republican women are trying to build their ranks. While programs such as She Should Run and Running Start, another non-partisan organization working to get more young women involved in politics, maintain a more long-game approach to their goals, Politico reported in October that women of the Republican Party have taken it upon themselves to form two new PACS —Winning for Women and Women2Women—with the aim of becoming the GOP’s version of Emily’s List.
According to Politico, Winning for Women is the result of pre-existent fundraising committees that contributed “millions of dollars” to Stefanik’s and to Rep. Martha McSally’s (R-AZ) successful congressional campaigns. Now it has more ambitious goals, and started reaching out to potential members and supporting conservative Republican female candidates back in September with the aim of getting a few of them to run in 2018.
When Refinery29 checked in with them in early November, the group said it had recruited more than 30,000 members who have provided their names and email addresses to the organization, Winning for Women’s Communications Director Katherine Cresto told Refinery29 in a statement. She said they are aiming for 400,000 members by next November but that they will announce formal members number in the new year along with a slate of candidates. Spokeswoman Andrea Bozek said in a statement that the PAC does not have a “one-size” fits all approach to candidate endorsements; they will support women leaders of any age who advocate for families, national security and a strong economy.
“EMILY's list was not built overnight, they have been working on building their network of supporters for over three decades,” says Sarah Chamberlain, president and CEO of Republican Main Street Partnership, a network of over 70 members of Congress that represent the governing wing of the Republican Party. “I am confident that women want to hear from our [Republican] candidates. We just have to work a little harder to share with voters why it’s so important to engage with and elect more Republican women…Democrats have been working to recruit female candidates for longer than we have on the Republican side.”
For her part, Chamberlain has her sights set on recalibrating her Women2Women Tour, a conference which connects female entrepreneurs and small business owners with female lawmakers, which she founded in 2014, into a PAC of its own right.
In the meantime, the Democrats are forging ahead with women candidates. According to a Cook Political Report released November, 17 House races that were or are currently held by Republicans are officially toss-ups. EMILY’s List has already endorsed 18 women running for house seats in toss-up states. If 2018’s midterms indeed turn out to be the watershed moment for Democratic women that they are projected to be, Republican women stand to benefit down the road, as well, especially with the money and resources to run campaigns that matter. Women in government tend to be more collaborative and bipartisan in the interest of progress, and according to a study in the American Journal of Political Science, the bills they co-sponsor are more likely to benefit women and children, as well as advance social issues of education, health and poverty.
For now, Republican women lack the same clout as their Democratic counterparts in part because there are fewer of them. There are only 27 Republican women serving in the United States Congress (that’s just over 5% of all seats), compared to 78 Democratic women.
And while Rep. Mimi Walters (R-CA) and Love are likely to retain their seats in 2018, McSally and Comstock are both facing elections that a recent Cook Political Report analysis classed as “toss-ups,” meaning either party has a good chance of winning.
You need only consider two recent events to see why that matters: When Kirsten Gillibrand and 13 other female Democratic lawmakers called for Sen. Al Franken’s resignation over alleged sexual misconduct they drew the broader support of the party. When the women on the Republican side—Rep. Elise Stefanik, Barbara Comstock, Mia Love and Senator Susan Collins—made denunciations against Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore, who’d been accused of assaulting teen girls one of whom was underage, it went absolutely nowhere. Even Ambassador Haley came out on Sunday in support of the women who have come forward about Trump’s own history of sexual violence, allegations which Trump and the White House vehemently deny.
Despite their small numbers, GOP women say their ranks are strong and growing.
“We have incredible women in Congress with bright futures, and I think that our voices are only going to become louder as we add more women to the Republican Congress next session,” said Stefanik.
Of course, even these efforts to bring more Republican women into office it’s unclear how their views would shape the party. There are many pro-life women out there, and let’s not forget that 53% of white women voters pulled the lever for Trump. And although Stefanik and her colleagues denounced Moore, the chair of Republican National Committee, Ronna Romney McDaniel, opted to send money to the Alabama candidate’s election effort after he was endorsed by President Trump. The National Republican Senate Committee, a group that is devoted to strengthening the Republican Senate Majority and electing Republicans to the Senate, which is led by Senator Cory Gardner, did not. And let’s not forget the governor of Alabama, Republican Kay Ivey, supported Moore’s campaign.
Stefanik, for one, remains optimistic about the future of women within her party.
“(When I ran for Congress), I talked about how we needed a new generation of leadership, how we needed a fresh approach, and different perspectives,” she said. “We needed a younger perspective, more women’s perspectives on policy issues and that resonated, not just among women voters, but among male voters, as well. It’s been helpful for many of these candidates, or soon-to-be women candidates for Congress, to look at the other women who serve in the House in the Republican conference in terms of how they talked about that when they were running.”