Mad GOP Men

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 come."


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.

Most 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. 

Candidates emerging 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 political structure.

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 primary.

Men also won the overwhelming majority of GOP primaries where a Republican takeover seemed possible -- back a year or so ago, when the decisions to run were being made. (One of the few women to win a Republican primary in one of those districts was Jaime Herrera, who came out of the political machine of a woman: Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers.)

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.

Because 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 Noem.

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 winners.

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 provide.

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.

One group came up through political infrastructures: Ayotte in New Hampshire; Martinez in New Mexico; Haley in South Carolina, and Fallon in Oklahoma.

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 advantages.)

As you may have noticed, only the ones who came through the political infrastructures actually won their general elections. The others all lost in what certainly were looked at as winnable, if perhaps difficult races. I would argue that the massive bankrolls and the Palin blessings in those high-profile races allowed really bad candidates to get around the political infrastuctures. But at least they were able to get that far.
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