Women were expected to turn out in large numbers this midterm elections — and they did. And while the GOP saw some historic gains among women — Tennessee’s first woman senator is a Republican — women overwhelmingly voted against Republicans.
One group in particular that the GOP did well with in 2016 — suburban women — turned away from the party of President Trump, leaving one influential senator perplexed.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called on his fellow Republicans on Tuesday to address the party’s weaknesses with suburban female voters. On Fox News on Election Day, he said:
“We’ve got to address the suburban women problem, because it’s real."
Graham was right. There was a blue wave during the midterms, and much of it can be attributed to the GOP’s problem with women in the suburbs. Liberal political commentator Anushay Hossain told the Fix:
“When we say ‘suburban,’ we are really talking about white women, and while they make up the majority of Trump supporters, current and past, I think it is impossible for them to continue to ignore Trump’s basic disregard for women and our rights, both culturally and politically, with his policies and rhetoric.”
But suburban voters' concerns with the GOP weren’t limited to the commander in chief. They found the positions and behavior of legislators like Graham troublesome as well.
The veteran lawmaker had what some deemed a “meltdown” as he defended Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, who was facing accusations of sexual assault. In his desire to protect Trump’s nominee, he made public his disbelief of Christine Blasey Ford, the clinical psychologist who accused Kavanaugh of inappropriately touching her without consent while the two were in high school.
“You got nothing to apologize for,” Graham told Kavanaugh. “When [you see Justices] Sotomayor and Kagan, say hello because I voted for them. I’d never do to them what you’ve done to this guy.”
Pivoting to Democrats, he blamed them for wanting the judge to answer questions about the allegations he faced:
“This is the most unethical sham since I’ve been in politics, and if you really wanted to know the truth, you sure as hell wouldn’t have done what you’ve done to this guy.”
After Republicans voted in favor of Kavanaugh, Graham and others on the right believed that women voters would see their fathers, husbands, brothers and sons in Kavanaugh, and side with Republicans aiming to protect men facing accusations of sexual assault.
“Right now, I’d say my sons,” said Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son and a senior adviser on his reelection campaign, when the Daily Mail asked whom he is most worried about.
But women largely disagreed and decided to back lawmakers, many of them women, who voted against confirming Kavanaugh, who continued to face low approval ratings from women, according to a Washington Post/ABC poll. While Graham acknowledges the issue that GOP Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel first mentioned nearly a year ago, it’s not yet clear that President Trump does.
It wasn’t until late in the midterms that the president shared the stage with some of his most visible women supporters. And even in the days after the midterms, Trump grabbed headlines for repeatedly slamming black women journalists. Liberal political commentator Anushay Hossain told The Fix that change for the GOP starts at the top:
“The list of examples are endless, but I think the honeymoon period of giving Trump the benefit of the doubt on where he stands on women and anything that affects our lives, is over. The GOP really cannot do anything about this problem with suburban women until they have a new face and voice for their party that isn’t a self-proclaimed sexual assaulter."
The harm may be long-lasting but a new Congress gives the right the opportunity to show voters that they may not be who they seem to be. Whether Republicans as a whole will embrace the reality of their women voter problem and make significant pivots remains to be seen. The true test will come sooner than later as the next major election is less than two years away.