Congresswoman Liz Cheney’s announcement that she will not seek the open Wyoming Senate seat in 2020 underscores the vast challenges faced by Republican women in the 2020 election season.
As the only Republican woman in congressional leadership, Cheney knows that leaving her seat for a Senate run would weaken an already tiny bench of female Republican talent in the House. Given the shockingly low numbers, retirements (including the chair of female recruitment for the Republican Party, Rep. Susan Brooks) and multiple well-funded challenges to unseat the few women remaining, it has never been more urgent for Republican Party leaders to address the gender gap they face.
But rather than take the challenge seriously, Republican National Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, on Fox News, called the dwindling numbers of Republican women in political power “Fake News.” That response does a disservice to those working hard to close the very real gender gap in Republican politics. Here are the facts:
Today there are 23 Republican women in Congress, the lowest number in decades. In 2018, a record number of Democratic women were elected to the House and Senate while Republican women faced near decimation of their ranks. Only 13 Republican women remain in the House. Four of the nine Republican women senators were appointed, rather than elected, including Kelly Leoffler of Georgia, who was sworn in this month.
The three women remaining in the Trump Cabinet represent the lowest number of any presidency since Ronald Reagan’s first term in office, more than 40 years ago.
It’s certainly notable that the Republican National Committee is led by a woman and that 180 Republican women have stepped forward to run (double the number in 2018), and yet the overall prospects for Republican women in national and elected leadership is bleak.
Double the number of Republican women running is about half the number of Democratic women running in the same cycle. That’s why Republican women understand the facts are not fake. Last year Rep. Elise Stefanik called the current state “crisis level” and launched a PAC to try to support conservative women.(Stefanik herself is facing a well-funded opponent that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has targeted to flip red to blue.)
The lack of elected and senior women Republicans should concern people on both sides of the aisle.We, the authors, represent both the Democratic and Republican parties in our personal affiliations, and encourage women to engage in politics no matter their party because we know that representation of women in power is essential to our democracy.
Across the country many Republican women have been working tirelessly to try to address the widening gap in female representation and the real challenges for women on the right in the age of Trump. They deserve to be supported by party leadership in their efforts.
Take the massive funding gap conservative women face in running for office. Several PACs, including Stefanik’s ElevatePAC and Righ
Party leaders must also acknowledge what the 2018 and 2019 elections, as well as what countless polls have indicated; suburban women, especially those with college degrees, have been fleeing the Republican Party in droves, turned off by Trump. This sets up an especially difficult paradigm because the suburbs have historically been feeders of Republican female talent. Gone are the political prospects for moderate or right-of-center women. Just ask Barbara Comstock of Virginia, who lost in the Blue Wave of 2018 squeezed between Trump and a hard place.
In 2013 then RNC chairman Ed Gillespie released an election autopsy that called for significant changes in how the Republican Party engaged with minorities and women in the campaign process. He and other former RNC chairs worked tirelessly for years to boost conservative women up and down the ballot because they were clear-eyed in their assessment and willing to do the hard work to address the challenges.
Sadly, President Trump has hollowed out the prospects for many conservative women, a reality that may only change once he leaves office. As long as he is president, Republican women running face a Faustian bargain — either pledge allegiance to Trump, a strategy that works only in the deepest of deep red America or if they chose to chart their own course in more purple or blue leaning districts, face huge primary challenges and running without the support of party infrastructure, or worse, an attack from Trump himself. Even in this complex context, more can be done to help women succeed and win if they chose to run.
Women on both sides of the aisle have proven both better, more effective and productive legislators but also more willing to find common ground and make progress for the country. It’s disheartening to see women so far from parity whatever their party. We encourage Republican leaders to take stock of the current state with a clear-eyed willingness to make change and work harder for women.