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.
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-LehtinenHigh-speed rail getting last minute push in Congress Bottom line Bottom line 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 StefanikWyoming county GOP rejects effort to rescind Cheney's party status Stefanik in ad says Democrats want 'permanent election insurrection' GOP leader taking proxy voting fight to Supreme Court 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 EmmerGOP ramps up pressure on vulnerable Democrats in spending fight GOP leader taking proxy voting fight to Supreme Court Crypto industry seeks to build momentum after losing Senate fight 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 CheneyHouse passes sweeping defense policy bill Trump rips Bush for backing Cheney Bush to hold fundraiser for Cheney 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 TrumpJulian Castro knocks Biden administration over refugee policy Overnight Energy & Environment — League of Conservation Voters — Climate summit chief says US needs to 'show progress' on environment Five takeaways from Arizona's audit results 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 MillerHouse lawmakers urge Paralympics to make personal care assistants essential staff Six ways to visualize a divided America House GOP campaign arm rolls out new leadership team 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.
Despite the 40-seat drubbing, there were few calls for a wholesale change in leadership. The GOP conference elevated Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble Fifth House Republican comes out in support of bipartisan infrastructure bill Watch live: McCarthy holds briefing with reporters MORE (Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseFifth House Republican comes out in support of bipartisan infrastructure bill Democratic leaders racing toward Monday infrastructure vote House GOP to whip against bipartisan infrastructure bill MORE (La.) to the No. 1 and No. 2 spots, respectively, and elected Cheney to replace Rep. Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersHouse passes bill to ensure abortion access in response to Texas law Biden administration rolls out clean car goals Biden, Pelosi struggle with end of eviction ban 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 CostellloRep. Brendan Boyle decides against Pennsylvania Senate bid Pennsylvania's Democratic lt. governor files to run for Senate Bottom Line 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.”