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 TrumpDonald Trump and Joe Biden create different narratives for the election The hollowing out of the CDC Poll: Biden widens lead over Trump to 10 points 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.


“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 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, 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.


“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 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 (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 WagnerTrump, GOP go all-in on anti-China strategy House passes massive T coronavirus relief package Bottom line 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-CortezOcasio-Cortez rips de Blasio after police cruiser drives into crowd of protestors NYPD police cruisers lurch through group of demonstrators protesting Floyd's death States respond with force amid another night of protests 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.