As I wrote last week,
the election results appear to have left Republicans with the same
miserably low representation by women in elected office as they had
coming in. As I concluded: "The
GOP's elected officials are and will be essentially 90% male for some years to
Throughout this election cycle (and before) I've been trying to
understand why the Republican Party has such a horrendous record of
electing women. There are lots and lots of possible contributing
factors. But now, with this critical election cycle complete, I am ready
to say that the main, bottom-line reason is that the Republican Party
is just a flat-out misogynistic old-boys club making no progress at all
in its treatment of women.
Let's back up a bit.
successful political candidates emerge from existing (usually partisan)
political infrastructures. Not necessarily the formal party committees,
but the many, many formal, semiformal, and informal structures all over
the country. Ayanna Pressley, to take a local Boston example, emerged
from the John Kerry political structure, the Joe Kennedy political
structure, and the Massachusetts women's political structure.
from those existing political structures have enormous advantages over those who don't,
particularly in party primaries. They still have to earn their votes,
but if they lose, it will usually be to another candidate from a
For a long, long time, the important political structures -- on both
sides of the aisle -- failed to produce women like Pressley, because the
culture was a
lot like what you see in "Mad Men." The men got the opportunity to gain
experience, and make contacts, and connect with mentors and patrons --
while the women were sent to work on the phones and stuff envelopes.
It's not too surprising, in that culture, that the promotions, or
elections, would end up going to men.
The GOP political structures are still essentially Mad Men cultures, which do not produce women candidates. That
is the primary obstacle, in my view, rather than a lack of potential
women candidates, or unwillingness of primary- or general-election
voters to choose them.
One way we can tell, I would argue, is that
Republican women do terribly in races where the political establishment
thinks a Republican will win, but they do fairly well in races where
Republican hopes are slim -- that is, where the political-structure
candidates might not bother to run.
For example, there were 20 US
House districts being left open this year by Republican incumbents --
those are really desirable races, in places where a certain amount of
political infrastructures exist (including that of the outgoing
incumbent). In every one of those races, a man won the Republican
Where women did win a number of Republican
primaries was in less desirable -- and less winnable -- races.
Particularly, districts with Democratic incumbents, who the more
institutional Republican candidates didn't want to run against.
this turned into a wave election, some of those races later became
winnable. Hence relative political lone wolves like Renee Ellmers, Nan
Hayworth, and Vicky Hartzler will now be congresswomen, along with
several women relatively low in their local political heirarchies --
like city councilor Martha Roby, and state reps Sandy Adams and Kristi
The exact same thing appears to have happened at the state
legislative levels as well: men won Republican primaries in the
overwhelming majority of the most winnable races, particularly open
Republican seats, but GOP women were able to win some seats by entering
primaries that nobody else wanted, that unexpectedly turned out to be
To be blunt, the Republican structures that develop and
support politicians for office are clearly enormous impediments to
women, effectively blocking them from achieving office. When that
impediment is removed, by Republican disinterest in the race, Republican
women can win.
Things work slightly differently, however, in the
very high-profile races for Governor and US Senate. Not that women fared
any better in the end though -- they are just 4 of the 40 newly-elected
Republican Senators and Governors.
In those races, there is more
potential for candidates to win a primary without coming from the
political infrastructure, because the intense attention to the race
sometimes allows a candidate to overcome lack of funding, insider
support, endorsements, and the political machinery those infrastructures
That may have been particularly true for Republicans,
and especially women Republicans, in this cycle, with the voting base
feeling highly anti-establishment and anti-insider.
This cycle, nine women won GOP primaries for Governor and Senate, and they fell into three categories.
group came up through political infrastructures: Ayotte in New
Hampshire; Martinez in New Mexico; Haley in South Carolina, and Fallon
A second group used personal fortunes to buy
their way around the political infrastructures: Whitman and Fiorina in
California, and McMahon in Connecticut.
The third group were
pretty much single-handedly lifted above the political infrastructures
by Sarah Palin: O'Donnell in Delaware, and Angle in Nevada. (Palin also
endorsed some of the others, but long after they had their other