The comparative loyalty of women voters to the Republican Party Continues to be one of the anomalies of American political life. In analyzing the 1976 presidential election, the Gallup poll found, in fact, that "if women only had voted, Gerald Ford undoubtedly would have been elected."
Since then, Republican Party affiliation has declined to the lowest point ever recorded in Gallup surveys over the last 40 years. Nevertheless, more women than men still render allegiance to the GOP, even though they get little recognition in return from the party leaders.
There are a few prominent Republicans, like former Ambassador Henry Catto, who perceive the potential for a GOP comeback through intense cultivation of the ever larger women's vote, but in the main their views are not shared by the party pros.
"A serious move for the presidency by an able and experienced woman," says Catto, "would outflank the Democrats . . . and bring forth a gusher of new volunteers. It would give life to a generally staid party."
If the Republicans in 1980 have to challenge Jimmy Carter, as now seems probable, they will have little choice but to gamble, for no incumbent Democratic president in this century has ever been defeated for reelection.
Although the next presidential race is two years away, the GOP field of contenders is already overcrowded with 20 or more hopefuls openly or coyly aspiring to the nomination. They have one thing in common: They are all men - most of whom would be outshone by one notable Republican woman, Anne Armstrong, who is available for the nomination.
Armstrong, who made such an outstanding record as U.S. ambassador to Great Britain during the Ford administration, is frequently spoken of as a possible vice president. But why not president? After all, her experience in politics, government and international affairs can certainly stand comparison with that of most of the present aspirants and is considerably broader than Carter's was before he entered the White House.
Before going to London, Armstrong was a White House counselor to the president, and before that she was Republican national committeewoman from Texas (where she helped run a very large ranch for years) and also co-chairman of the national party. In addition, she is a director of General Motors, Braniff Airlines, General Foods Corporation, and other large enterprises.
She made an impressive record at Vassar, and is presently Edmund Walsh lecturer in diplomacy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies at Georgetown University. To top it off, she has looks and charm, plus that great political asset, the gift of gab.
Armstrong is only one of three possibilities from Texas, the other being John Connally, former Democratic governor, and George Bush, a former congressman and former chairman of the Republican National Committee. Connally, however, is tagged as a defector, and Bush has twice been defeated in Texas for the Senate.
Not long ago a number of the 1980 hopefuls, including Connally and Bush, got together in Dallas for a GOP "unity" rally. The headliners also included Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. After looking over the lineup, Armstrong, tongue in cheek, remarked, "I am the only speaker with absolutely no aspirations to be the next male president of the United States."
As for Reagan and Ford, the chairman of the House Republican Conference, Rep. John B. Anderson of Illinois, says, "In view of their age and what happened in 1976, I don't think the party is going to look to either one of them as a candidate. . . . We will develop a new leader between now and 1980."
In the eyes of other party leaders, Sen. Robert Dole of Kansas, who was Ford's running mate, and Sen. Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania, who was No. 2 on the Reagan ticket, have also had it. The first to enter the 1980 race openly is Rep. Philip Crane of Illinois; another new face is Rep. Jack Kemp of New York. Their experience is limited to several terms in Congress.
Others are Howard Baker, the Senate minority leader, Jim Thompson, first-term governor of Illinois; Sen. Lowell Weicker of Connecticut; Gov. William Milliken of Michigan; Elliot Richardson, former Cabinet officer; William Simon, former treasury secretary. Also mentioned are moderates like Anderson and Sen. Charles Mathias of Maryland. And from the far right there are Sen. Paul Laxalt of Nevada and James McClure of Idaho, both of whom have that gleam in their eye. When you look over most of that long list, however, there is no need for Armstrong to be modest about her own credentials.
Almost 10 years ago, former President Nixon was saying, "A woman can and should be able to any political job that a man can do." Earlier this year, Rosalynn Carter said she believes it is "just a matter of time" before there is a woman president.
The voters, according to the polls, heartily agree. Eleanor Smeal, president of the National Organization for Women, sums it up this way: "We are a serious political power, and we have finally delivered that message."