A funny thing happened on the way to the RNC 2012 convention in Tampa. You probably didn’t notice it on TV coverage, except when the TV cameras panned the room, but even then if you weren’t looking for it you probably didn’t see it. The “it” that has happened to the GOP is the transformation of the GOP Women.
A generation ago at the 1988 RNC Convention in New Orleans, the GOP Women consisted of a small handful of professional women with successful careers. The vast majority of GOP Women back then were in the “Wives Of” club, shorthand for those women who would introduce themselves as “I’m Mary Jones, the wife of Tom Jones the CEO of XYZ Construction Company”. Indeed, their name badges would say “Mrs. Tom Jones” as if they had no identity (or thoughts) of their own. These were the women in Chanel, Armani and Ungaro, and sporting enough precious jewels to rival the House of Windsor. Their identity was through their husbands’ careers and connections, and they exuded a regal disdain for “working girls”.
Fast forward 24 years and you saw the Tampa Convention filled with Misook, Eileen Fisher, Talbott, GAP and Calvin Klein. The “wives of” have disappeared along with “Mrs. Tom Jones” name badges and Chanel suits. The 2012 GOP Women have successful careers and are often small business owners or executives. They stand toe-to-toe with their male counterparts daily and have no time for silly stereotypes about the proper role of wives and mothers. The social issues that consumed earlier generations have been replaced by these business-savvy women’s concern for their companies, their employees and the world their children will inherit.
They have come to understand one important thing – men don’t know any more than they do about how to solve the economic crisis that is gripping America’s small business community. GOP men are a bit late in understanding the paradigm shift that has occurred. They see it in their wives and daughters; they see it in the women professionals they deal with daily; but the patriarchal structure of the RNC has not quite adapted to the new reality of GOP women.
As Kimberly Strassel pointed on in a Wall Street Journal OpEd last week, neither party understands the 2012 professional woman. Ms. Strassel writes, “The Obama campaign is serving a straight-up 1970’s feminist agenda: contraception, abortion, equal pay.” She quotes Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter as saying that women “aren’t really concerned about what’s happened over the past four years”.
But the Romney campaign isn’t doing much better with virtual pats on the head instead of presenting economic solutions that will help them progress in their careers and provide financial stability for their families. Women know the economy is moribund because they deal with it every day. No matter what a TV talking head says, things are much worse today than they were 4 years ago – and the trajectory looks grim. Women know something has to change and GOP Women want Candidate Romney to tell them what it is he’ll do to fix what’s broken, stop the annual federal budget deficit, and do it without fundamentally changing America and the capitalistic system that has created so much opportunity for so many generations.
But most of all, they want the RNC to stop treating them like “wives of”, and start treating them like they have their own identity, their own name on a badge, and an active brain quite capable of deciding which solutions are likely to be effective and which are merely pandering.