If disagreements among House members are nothing new, disclosing private intra-party conversations to the media is a tactic in which few lawmakers engage.
The fact that her GOP colleagues are overwhelmingly male may also shed some light on what is going on here. In leaking the attacks directly to reporters, Cheney’s colleagues broke an unwritten rule that House GOP members have followed from time immemorial: What happens in the conference stays in the conference. Is it possible they lashed out because Cheney is a woman?
Republicans certainly have a problem with women. While Democrats have elected an increasing number of women to Congress in the past two decades, Republicans have lagged behind, despite great efforts to recruit female candidates by Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.), recruitment chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.). The Republican conference in the House has 197 members, but only 13 are women. By contrast, of 233 House Democrats, 88 are women. Since women make up 51 percent of the U.S. population and some 53 percent of the voting public, Republicans might want to consider how their fortunes might depend on what they do to address participation by women at every level.
Female Republican candidates have done well in general elections; it is surviving the primary that is usually the hurdle to higher office. Primaries tend to attract fewer voters and are dominated by the party’s more extreme factions. For Republicans, this has resulted in a steady stream of male candidates who have steered the party away from the center — and further away from the more practical politics favored by the very group that represents the swing vote in so many general elections: suburban women.
In my meetings with suburban women across the country, one thing has become clear: They have had it with the endless attacks, hard-line rhetoric and name-calling that have dominated recent politics — the very same sort of attacks ginned up by Freedom Caucus members against Cheney.
Suburban women have always been most interested in practical solutions for themselves and their families, from health care to education to economic opportunity. Now, with a global pandemic bearing down and serious social and economic problems threatening their day-to-day lives, women expect their party’s leaders to be, at a minimum, working together toward a common goal.
If Republicans can’t fix their problems with women, they face dire prospects in future elections. To fix those problems, Republicans will need to listen to women more, not less. They will need to actively court the female vote in primaries as well as in general elections. They will need to better understand the needs of the working mothers who have supported them in the past. They will need to provide a political home for women who long for a more tolerant and united country.
This week’s leaked attacks on Cheney are a reflection of a party that has gone off the rails. Women can save it.