‘Wake up, dudes’ — gender gap confounds GOP women

Republican men and women are deeply divided over how to confront the results of a brutal midterm election that decimated the ranks of female GOP lawmakers in the House.

Most House Republicans have so far shown little appetite for performing an autopsy on the 2018 election cycle and publicly identifying the root of their tough losses, which were stark among female voters, particularly in the suburbs.

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But a vocal chorus of Republican women has been sounding the alarm to address what they view as a crisis, calling on party leaders to be more aggressive in devising a strategy to reverse the trend by the next election cycle.

“I encourage our party leaders to be more aggressive in seeking out and helping younger candidates, female candidates and candidates of color,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-LehtinenIleana Carmen Ros-LehtinenWomen are refusing to take the backseat in politics, especially Latinas Watchdog groups call for investigation into Ros-Lehtinen's foreign lobbying work Ex-Rep. Frelinghuysen joins law and lobby firm MORE (R-Fla.), who is retiring. “We have to step up our game or risk having the nation look upon us as the political party of the grandparents.”

“Wake up, dudes,” she added.

Some GOP women are even vowing to go on their own missions to bring female candidates and voters back into the arms of the party next year.

Rep. Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikBipartisan House bill seeks to improve pandemic preparedness The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga says supporting small business single most important thing we should do now; Teva's Brendan O'Grady says U.S. should stockpile strategic reserve in drugs like Strategic Oil Reserve House GOP to launch China probes beyond COVID-19 MORE (R-N.Y.), who led recruitment efforts for the House GOP’s campaign arm this cycle, made waves this week when she announced plans to get involved in primary races to help more Republican women get elected to Congress.

Rep. Tom EmmerThomas (Tom) Earl EmmerHouse Republicans voice optimism on winning back the House following special election victories GOP pulls support from California House candidate over 'unacceptable' social media posts Trump campaign launches new fundraising program with House Republicans MORE (R-Minn.), the chairman-elect of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), called the idea a “mistake.”

“NEWSFLASH I wasn’t asking for permission,” Stefanik fired back in a tweet. “I will continue speaking out [about] the crisis level of GOP women in Congress & will try to lead and change that by supporting strong GOP women candidates through my leadership PAC.”

Tensions have started to spill out into public view in the wake of a slow-moving blue wave that handed the House back to Democrats for the first time since 2010. And Republican women suffered a stinging blow, with their ranks poised to shrink from 23 down to 13 next year.

That comes in stark contrast to House Democrats, who will see a record 89 women serving in Congress, nearly seven times the number of Republican women.

“I think the Republicans have to get off of defense on this issue,” Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyHillicon Valley: House FISA bill in jeopardy | Democrats drop controversial surveillance measure | GOP working on legislation to strip Twitter of federal liability protections The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump ramps up attacks against Twitter The Hill's Coronavirus Report: National Portrait Gallery's Kim Sajet says this era rewiring people's relationship with culture, art; Trump's war with Twitter heats up MORE (R-Wyo.), who was recently elected to be GOP conference chairwoman, told The Washington Post. “We need more women running for office, no doubt.”

Republican women faced especially tough political headwinds this year. Exit polls suggest that President TrumpDonald John TrumpMichael Flynn transcripts reveal plenty except crime or collusion 50 people arrested in Minneapolis as hundreds more National Guard troops deployed Missouri state lawmaker sparks backlash by tweeting 'looters deserve to be shot' MORE’s deep unpopularity, particularly among women and college-educated voters in the suburbs, helped fuel the major Democratic gains.

That could pose a serious problem for the GOP as it tries to win over voters and ramp up female recruitment efforts in 2020, when Trump will be at the top of the ticket.

The widening gender gap between the two parties has been a real source of pain and frustration for Republican women, and particularly Stefanik, a rising GOP star who was, until this year, the youngest woman elected to Congress.

Stefanik, 34, was credited with doubling the number of female GOP candidates who were recruited to run for congressional seats this year. But only one woman — Rep.-elect Carol MillerCarol Devine MillerHillicon Valley: Trump threatens Michigan, Nevada over mail-in voting | Officials call for broadband expansion during pandemic | Democrats call for investigation into Uber-Grubhub deal Republicans introduce bill to create legal 'safe harbor' for gig companies during the pandemic GOP women's super PAC blasts 'out of touch' candidate in NC runoff MORE (R-W.Va.) — won her race.

Stefanik reportedly pressed the two male lawmakers running for GOP minority leader during a candidate forum last month about their plans to help more Republican women win their races, but she was disappointed by their responses.

“I was struck that I really didn’t get an answer,” Stefanik told The Washington Post.

House Republicans have been reluctant, at least publicly, to diagnose the reasons for their electoral losses and discuss ways to correct course — a stark contrast to the 2006 and 2012 election cycles, though some Republicans point out that the infamous 2012 autopsy report was largely ignored.

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Despite the 40-seat drubbing, there were few calls for a wholesale change in leadership. The GOP conference elevated Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyHillicon Valley: Trump signs order targeting social media legal protections | House requests conference with Senate after FISA vote canceled | Minneapolis systems temporarily brought down by hackers House punts on FISA, votes to begin negotiations with Senate Rep. Banks launches bid for RSC chairman MORE (Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseHouse pays tribute to late Congressman Sam Johnson on the floor Rep. Banks launches bid for RSC chairman House cancels planned Thursday vote on FISA MORE (La.) to the No. 1 and No. 2 spots, respectively, and elected Cheney to replace Rep. Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersBipartisan senators call for investigation of TikTok's child privacy policies Hillicon Valley: Facebook permanently shifting thousands of jobs to remote work | Congressional action on driverless cars hits speed bump during pandemic | Republicans grill TikTok over data privacy concerns Top Commerce Republicans grill TikTok parent company MORE (Wash.) as conference chairwoman.

Few Republicans have been interested in talking publicly about the negative effects Trump has had when it comes to the GOP’s standing with women.

“I think people know what happened, but in certain positions it’s difficult to say those things,” said retiring Rep. Ryan CostelloRyan Anthony CostellloBottom line Former GOP Rep. Costello launches lobbying shop Head of Pennsylvania GOP resigns over alleged explicit texts MORE (R-Pa.), a vocal Trump critic. “The president was on the ballot. The president himself said he was on the ballot.”

Some in the party believe an autopsy report would be premature at this point.

And Emmer, who will take the reins of the House GOP’s campaign arm, disputed the notion that Republicans weren’t being proactive about figuring out what went wrong.

“We’re being incredibly introspective. We’ve got a long way to go, but we’ve just started,” he said. “We’re going to be doing some deep review of the issues most important to the voters we didn’t get.”

Emmer also defended the party’s efforts to elect women this cycle, pointing out that Stefanik successfully recruited 100 female candidates to run for office and that Democratic mega-donors like Michael Bloomberg targeted their female incumbents.

He said it’s a major priority for him to replenish the dwindling number of GOP women in Congress. The NRCC is in the process of building a new program aimed at getting more female candidates over the finish line, and Emmer plans to gather input directly from House Republican women in devising the strategy, though it will not involve playing in primaries.

“We need to elect more Elise Stefaniks, more Liz Cheneys,” Emmer said.

Stefanik, who faced a competitive primary race in 2014, isn’t the only female Republican vowing to intervene in primaries.

Sarah Chamberlain, president and CEO of the Republican Main Street Partnership, is also vowing to get involved earlier in the primary process and spend big on top female recruits.  

She argued that Democrats have the advantage of a long-standing centralized effort to recruit and support female candidates in the form of EMILY’s List, which was founded in 1985. Republican organizations to support female candidates don’t have the same level of prominence and haven’t been around as long.

Chamberlain pointed to GOP congressional candidate Ashley Nickloes, a military pilot who lost a seven-way primary in a safe Republican district in Tennessee, as someone who would have benefited from early intervention and funding.

“She was a perfect candidate … I could have gotten her through,” Chamberlain said. “I’m not gonna leave one on the table again.”