GOP women face steeper climb in Trump era

House GOP women are facing a far tougher challenge than their male colleagues as they seek to replenish their dwindling ranks on Capitol Hill.

Part of the difficulty for female GOP candidates, according to lawmakers and political operatives, is that they find themselves having to answer for President TrumpDonald John TrumpPapadopoulos on AG's new powers: 'Trump is now on the offense' Pelosi uses Trump to her advantage Mike Pence delivers West Point commencement address MORE’s controversial policies and heated rhetoric toward women in ways their male colleagues don’t always have to.

That problem is likely to be exacerbated in 2020, when Trump will be atop the ticket.

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“It’s a challenge unique to Republican women. The media tends to focus on our response rather than everybody’s responses,” Rep. Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikHillicon Valley: Lawmakers seek 'time out' on facial recognition tech | DHS asks cybersecurity staff to volunteer for border help | Judge rules Qualcomm broke antitrust law | Bill calls for 5G national security strategy Bipartisan House bill calls for strategy to protect 5G networks from foreign threats Here are the eight Republicans who voted with Democrats on the Equality Act MORE (R-N.Y.), who led recruitment efforts for the House GOP’s campaign arm this cycle, told The Hill.

Female Republican lawmakers were confronted with daunting political headwinds leading up to the 2018 midterm elections, when women voters furious with Trump and energized by the “Me Too” movement helped propel House Democrats back into the majority, wiping out a significant chunk of GOP women in the process.

The entire House GOP suffered brutal electoral losses last month, with Democrats picking up at least 40 seats and winning back the majority.

But Republican women, who already made up a small percentage of their conference, were especially stung by the shellacking — their numbers will shrink from 23 to just 13 next year. That is in stark contrast to House Democrats, who will see a record 89 women serving in Congress starting next month.

Adding insult to injury is the fact that some GOP women feel as though not all Republican men are treating the issue with the same sense of urgency.

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“Some are, but not everybody. It’s because the ones left in the room are the ones who won their election,” Stefanik said. “I think it’s everyone's responsibility to understand we are at a crisis level in the GOP conference.”

“I’m concerned that we haven’t been introspective enough,” she added.

Stefanik helped recruit a record-breaking 100 GOP women to run for office this cycle, but only one candidate — Rep.-elect Carol MillerCarol Devine MillerGOP amps up efforts to recruit women candidates Kerry goes after Trump over climate on Capitol Hill Overnight Energy: Interior pick heads toward Senate confirmation | Dems want probe into nominee's role on pesticide report | House climate panel holds first hearing MORE (W.Va.) — was elected to Congress.

One of the biggest challenges for female Republicans in getting over the finish line was the commander in chief. Exit polls suggest that Trump’s deep unpopularity, particularly among women and college-educated voters in the suburbs, helped deliver an Election Day victory to House Democrats.

But the president remains popular with the base, resulting in a precarious balancing act for women in the party.

That could pose a serious problem for the GOP as it tries to increase the number of female recruits in hopes of winning back moderate and independent voters in 2020.

Stefanik, a 34-year-old rising star in the party, said she “hopes” those obstacles won’t discourage Republican women from running, and she's plotting a mission to help get more female GOP candidates elected in the next cycle.

Rep. Ann WagnerAnn Louise WagnerGOP amps up efforts to recruit women candidates Republicans offer 'free market alternative' to paid family leave Top GOP lawmaker moves to force floor vote on abortion bill MORE (Mo.), another leading female GOP voice, is in the process of developing a “suburban agenda” to stem the tide of Republican losses in the suburbs.

But there are other hurdles for Republican women besides the suburban revolt against Trump.

For one, 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 exist, but they don’t have the same level of fundraising and prominence as EMILY’s List, nor have they been around as long.

“What Democrats do have is a well-funded machine, which the Republican side doesn’t have,” said Sarah Chamberlain, president and CEO of the Republican Main Street Partnership. “We’re going to work on that in 2020.”

Democrats also targeted female GOP incumbents this election cycle, in part by tying the lawmakers to Trump.

“We need to do a better job of calling them out for that,” Stefanik said.

Stefanik also said female GOP candidates didn’t get nearly as much national attention as Democratic women during what was dubbed the “Year of the Woman.” Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezGOP amps up efforts to recruit women candidates Ocasio-Cortez, progressives trash 'antisemitic' Politico illustration of Bernie Sanders Biden under pressure from environmentalists on climate plan MORE (D-N.Y.), for example, became an instant rock star after her upset primary win, and has been growing in popularity ever since.

“Sometimes the GOP gets sold short,” Chamberlain said.

To counter that, Stefanik said she wants to create a “boot camp” for young female GOP candidates that provides financial backing and offers mentorship about how to run effective campaigns and navigate the political landscape. She is also encouraging some candidates who narrowly lost their races to run again.

Getting involved in primaries is another way to boost the ranks of Republican women, according to Stefanik, who ran in a competitive primary in 2014 and benefited from the early support from lawmakers like Wagner. She plans to refocus her leadership PAC and get heavily involved in primaries, even though that's something long considered taboo in the party.

“I want to take that experience and pay it forward,” Stefanik said.