Conservative women, shaped by a mixture of party loyalty and a rejection of gender-driven politics, have shown little evidence that they will follow the example of their Democratic sisters and publicly cut ties with men in their political camps who have been accused of sexual misconduct.
After female Senate Democrats prompted the resignation of Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) last week, saying they could no longer ignore the growing number of women who alleged he had kissed or groped them against their will, Republican women mostly have responded with shrugs or silence to accusations against men in their party.
President Trump, the highest profile Republican who has been accused of sexual misconduct, faced new attention Monday when three women held a news conference calling for Congress to investigate the allegations. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, in a marked break from the White House, said Sunday that Trump’s accusers “should be heard.”
But few Republican women have spoken out against Trump since he became president or have called for the party to abandon the candidacy of Roy Moore, the Alabama Republican running for the state's open U.S. Senate seat in Tuesday's special election, despite accusations that he pursued or sexually touched teenage girls as young as 14 when he was an assistant district attorney in his 30s.
Party loyalty plays a big role in why more Republican women have not demanded that GOP men accused of sexual harassment be held accountable. But a fundamental disagreement about the relevance of sexual harassment as a symptom of gender inequality is also a factor.
Ronnee Schreiber, chair of the political science department at San Diego State University, said many conservative women think the current conversation about sexual harassment has been “overblown” by feminists on the left. To them, women’s daily lives are less affected by sexual harassment and assault than by the economy and national security.
Democratic women, on the other hand, could call for Franken’s resignation without appearing to betray their party’s fundamental values, Schreiber said. “It’s consistent with the ideology of Democrats to be opposed to sexual harassment,” Schreiber said.
Franken resisted giving up his seat until Wednesday, when Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) publicly called for his resignation. She was quickly joined by several other female senators, followed by several male Democrats. Eventually, more than 30 Democrats urged Franken to step down, which he did in a combative speech, noting that Moore was still on the ballot and President Trump was still in the Oval Office.
Americans show a large political divide when asked whether sexual harassment is a serious problem. In a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, 92 percent of Democratic women and 86 percent of Democratic men said sexual harassment in the workplace is a problem for women. Among Republican women, 61 percent said sexual harassment of women in the workplace is a problem, as did 56 percent of Republican men.
The issue of sexual harassment in the workplace exploded two months ago when several actresses publicly reported that movie mogul Harvey Weinstein had sexually assaulted them. It also has made its way back to the political arena, with three members of Congress, including Franken, announcing their resignations last week. Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), who had been the longest-serving member of Congress, stepped down after former staffers said he had sexually harassed them. Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) resigned Friday amid allegations that he asked female employees to bear children as surrogates, including one woman who said he offered her $5 million.
Moore, however, has dismissed calls to end his campaign. Initially, more than a dozen Republican Senators, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), said Moore should step aside. McConnell now says the decision is up to the voters of Alabama.
Alabama’s senior senator, Richard C. Shelby, has not changed his position; he has said he wrote in the name of another Republican on his absentee ballot. “I think the Republican Party can do better,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday morning.
But most Republican members of Congress have said Moore should step aside only if the allegations are true. Of the five Republican women in the Senate, only one has emphatically said Moore should drop out of the race.
“Because we have this crazy two-party system, to make sure there is Republican dominance in the Senate they’re going to overlook it,” Schreiber said. “That’s why they overlooked Trump.”
When the “Access Hollywood” tape of Trump bragging about grabbing women’s crotches became public in the 2016 presidential race, and several women came forward to accuse him of sexual misconduct, “conservative women’s organizations basically said, ‘We don’t want him, but we want party dominance,’ ” Schreiber said, referring to groups like the Independent Women’s Forum and Concerned Women for America.
Two of Alabama’s most prominent Republican women — Gov. Kay Ivey and Terry Lathan, the chair of the state GOP — have consistently supported Moore.
Ronna McDaniel, the female chairman of the Republican National Committee, which withdrew its support from Moore shortly after the allegations arose, cited the president’s desire to keep the U.S. Senate seat in the GOP as the party’s reasons for reversing itself and resuming to help the embattled candidate.
Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington are the only female GOP members of Congress who have unequivocally said Moore should drop out of the election.
“I believe for the sake of this country that Roy Moore should step aside. There are others that can fill that seat,” Rodgers said in a local TV interview Thursday.
"Members of Congress, House and Senate are held to a higher standard. . . . We've got to walk the talk," she said after Franken announced his resignation.
Rodgers, who is chair of the House Republican Caucus, criticized Trump’s comments on the “Access Hollywood” tape but did not withdraw her support. Asked about her response to the women who spoke out about Trump on Monday, Olivia Hnat, a spokeswoman, said Rodgers “believes that no one should be afraid to speak up and share their story. Every accusation of harassment deserves its due attention and should be taken seriously, whether it is in Hollywood, in the media, in government or in the congressional workplace.”
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway has wavered in her response to the allegations against Moore. In an interview with ABC News soon after The Post published the first accusations, she said that the behavior Moore’s accusers described “offends me greatly as a woman, as a mother of three young girls,” and that it should be “disqualifying, if true.” But more recently, she defended Republicans’ continued support for Moore, saying Trump needs his vote to pass tax legislation.
She has taken to Twitter to jab Democratic women who vacillated in their response to the accusations against Franken, noting that Gillibrand had seemed ambivalent on the question just a day before she called for him to resign.
After the release of the “Access” tape last year, she accused some of Trump’s detractors of being on a “high horse,” suggesting they had in the past engaged in behavior similar to what Trump described. “I would talk to some of the members of Congress out there,” she said in an October 2016 MSNBC interview. “When I was younger and prettier, them rubbing up against girls, sticking their tongues down women’s throats uninvited who didn’t like it.”
In an interview with The Post, Conway said no one listened to her at the time because she was Trump's campaign manager. She argued that the issue of sexual harassment has become too politicized. "We cannot have an honest conversation or full and fair resolution of sexual misconduct in this country unless and until we stop discriminating against those coming forward based on their politics or any other factor," she said.
The Independent Women’s Forum honored Conway at a gala last month with its “Woman of Valor” award. During her remarks, Conway boasted about how she responded when Anita Hill accused then-Supreme Court justice nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. “I proudly brought this button in that said, ‘I believe him,’ ” she said, describing a pin she wore to classes at George Washington University’s law school during the 1991 hearings.
The IWF sprang from those hearings, founded by women who thought Thomas was being unfairly maligned because of his conservative beliefs. They chafed at the news media’s tendency to go to groups like the National Organization for Women for commentary on women’s issues.
Carrie Lukas, president of the IWF, said women on both sides of the political divide agree sexual harassment is a problem.
“But there is also a sense that we know that the accusation is also a political weapon,” she said. “These allegations can be incredibly damaging if you wanted to derail a candidate.”
Lukas stopped short of saying Moore should drop out of the race.
Patrice Onwuka, a senior policy analyst with the IWF, said she saw no cause for women on the right to take a stand against Moore.
“Judge Roy Moore has not been elected to the Senate, so his situation is not the same as Senator Al Franken or Rep. John Conyers,” she wrote in an email. “If the allegations are proven true then he is not fit to serve as a U.S. senator, but that is for the voters of his state to decide. Victims deserve to have their allegations investigated, but we should not rush to judgment on every allegation without more information.”
Michelle Bernard, a former president of the IWF, said she is disappointed to see so many conservative women waffling over Moore in the name of preserving a governing majority in the Senate. She was similarly disappointed that women like Conway provided political cover for Trump.
“If these people were not so powerful, they would have restraining orders against them and be on some sex [offenders] list, ordered to keep 100 feet away from children,” Bernard said.
“I have a very difficult time believing that people, deep in their hearts, believe this crap,” she continued. “They say it because they also fear they have something to lose — a powerful donor or they will lose the Senate or the White House — so they toe the party line in public, but they go home and shut the door and say, ‘My God, that man is sick.’ ”