THE GOP is making a classic male mistake. As they try to repair their party’s rocky relationship with women, Republicans are launching a charm offensive rather than addressing the issues responsible for the tensions.
Having previously suggested that radical feminists have undermined the traditional family by convincing women they should have careers, Rick Santorum, who suspended his campaign yesterday, had taken to praising the strength, accomplishments, and independence of his grandmother, wife, and daughter. In an(other) awkward but well-meaning comment, Mitt Romney recently portrayed his wife, Ann, indubitably his better half when it comes to campaign-trail charisma, as his emissary to female voters.
“My wife has the occasion, as you know, to campaign on her own,’’ said Romney. “And she reports to me regularly that the issue women care about most is the economy and getting good jobs for their kids, and for themselves.’’ (Memo to Mitt: I’m not sure women necessarily think of themselves as members of an exotic group requiring an issues liaison.) Senator Scott Brown, meanwhile, is highlighting his close relationship with his wife and two daughters. Yes, he wandered a little off-message about what he’s learned from them: “To cook.’’ That said, the genial senator obviously has a close, comfortable, teasing camaraderie with his all-female family. Anyone who knows the Romneys, meanwhile, knows theirs is a genuine partnership. Nor is there any reason to doubt Santorum’s avowed devotion to his wife.
But those relationships are mostly beside the point. Women voters aren’t going to be swayed simply or primarily by a candidate’s close relationship with his wife and family.
What really matters is what a candidate and his party stand for. And that’s a problem at both the presidential and the senatorial level. I’m not talking just about flashpoints like the recent controversy over insurance coverage for contraception. Or, for all the attention it gets, abortion, where there really isn’t much of a gender gap.
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