North Carolina Rep. Renee Ellmers, one of the Republicans who is supposed to be working on improving her party’s outreach to women, became just the latest in a long line of Republicans saying boneheaded things about women when comments she made during a Friday panel came to light this week. “Men do tend to talk about things on a much higher level,” she explained, adding that male Republicans need to “bring it down to a woman’s level” to get the women’s vote.
Now Ellmers is full damage control mode, sending out a statement accusing the reporter who recorded her comments, Ashe Schow of the Washington Examiner, of being a “liberal woman reporter” who took her words “completely out of context.” While playing the victim of the “liberal media” is a reflexive stance for any Republican politician who screws up, the problem here is that the shoe really doesn’t fit either Schow, a former writer for the Heritage Foundation, or the extremely conservative outlet she currently writes for. In response, Schow has now posted both an audio recording of Ellmers speaking and a full transcript so you can see the context for yourself.
The context doesn’t actually make things much better, which is unsurprising as Schow included quite a bit of the context in her original reporting. Ellmers was making the argument that women are simply more domestic and family-oriented than men and less interested in what she considers abstract arguments. Therefore, she said, Republicans need to try to make more connections between their policies and women’s lives. “Making sure that when we speak to individuals, we’re coming from the perspective that we care about what’s happening in your life. We know that these things—that the agenda of the Obama administration, the Obama economy—has been hurting you and your family consistently,” Ellmers said.
Knowing the full context doesn’t help, and not just because she still hasn’t explained why a woman’s level is below a man’s. While it’s inarguable that women tend to have more domestic responsibilities than men, the conclusion that Ellmers drew—that women aren’t willing or capable of understanding “high level” male talk that may involve a “pie chart or graph”—continues to be condescending, which is why Schow was so critical in the first place.
But that’s not the only thing Ellmers got wrong in her assessment. The reason women don’t vote for Republicans is not that they haven’t had the impact of Republican policies spelled out in simple enough terms for them. It’s because they understand Republican policies perfectly well. Women vote against Republicans because they know the impact Republican policies have on their lives.
This is most obviously true when it comes to reproductive health issues, where the Republican policies at every turn are about making abortion and contraception more difficult to afford and access. But the inescapable fact is that women, particularly single women, are quite aware of how Republican economic policies affect them, too. Women are likelier than men to make minimum wage or less. Women are more likely to fall into one of the eligibility categories for Medicaid. Women still make lower wages because of gender discrimination. Women like having contraception coverage and a social safety net. If anything, making the impact of policy easier to understand would drive even more women away from Republicans and toward Democrats.
Knowing this makes Ellmers’ condescending comments a little more understandable. She can’t admit that her party’s policies are rejected by a majority of women because they are actually bad for women. So, in order to maintain the illusion that Republican positions are good for women’s lives, she has to imply that women are somehow less capable than men of knowing a good policy when they see one. Ellmers stepped into a trap, but it’s a trap set up by her own party.