The XX Factor

Female GOP Leaders in Texas Are Abandoning Their Party in Droves

Foul-mouthed Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller

Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP/Getty Images

 

This election season has featured unrelenting misogyny among many male GOP politicians, a likely trickle-down effect reflecting the horrific sexism continually espoused by the man at the top of the presidential ticket. Nowhere has this misogyny been more apparent than in Texas: One Texas Republican representative said he’d consider supporting Trump if he boasted about raping women; another said of Hillary Clinton that “sometimes a lady needs to be told when she’s being nasty”; and Republican Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller recently called Clinton a “cunt.”

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This grotesque gush of sexist effluvium is too much for many GOP women leaders in Texas. According to a Texas Tribune report by Abby Livingston, “female consultants, lobbyists, activists and aspiring politicians … no longer feel welcome in their own party.” A great deal of these women are leaving the GOP, or abandoning politics altogether; some have vague plans to reform it from the inside. But the common refrain among the dozen female party leaders whom Livingston interviews is one of frustration, irritation, and disgust.

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As my colleague Michelle Goldberg has explained, Republican women across the country feel betrayed by their own party and its willingness to stand by an openly misogynistic candidate. That pain appears to be especially acute in Texas. “I’ve always felt pride in being from a state that supports and nurtures strong women,” Texas Republican strategist Jenifer Sarver told Livingston, “but this new wave of openly sexist attitudes perpetrated by Texas GOP leaders is disheartening and shameful, and I worry about the message it sends to the little girls in my life.”

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Sarah Flores, a Houston native who helped to manage Carly Fiorina’s presidential campaign, expressed frustration that GOP women fought back against Democratic claims of a Republican “war on women”—only to see those claims arguably validated this election cycle. Everyone seemed to agree that attacking Clinton using sexist slurs and insinuations was, in addition to being loathsome and alienating, simply bad politics.

But the problem, at least in Texas, may become self-perpetuating. Fewer women are running for elective office in the state, allowing what is already a boys’ club to reinforce its own stereotypical and chauvinistic ideas. The more exclusive and sexist that club gets, the less likely women are to break into it. As State Republican Executive Committee member Randan Steinhauser told Livingston, “I’ve tried to get involved in the party and tried to broaden the tent and to get other young women involved, but it makes my job harder when you have folks like Sid Miller and Donald Trump using this type of language.”

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What’s the endgame here? One possibility is a Republican Party increasingly devoid of female leaders (and supporters), sending the GOP into a death spiral of sexism. A different path forward, however, was on display when Megyn Kelly interrogated Trump surrogate Newt Gingrich about Trump’s alleged sexual assault. When Gingrich accused Kelly of being “fascinated by sex,” she pushed back with calm and (completely warranted) condescension, telling Gingrich to “take your anger issues and spend some time working on them.” Whether this was really the start of a Republican feminist awakening or just great TV remains to be seen. But it’s clear that in the post-Trump world, GOP women—in Texas and across the country—won’t be so willing to stand by the men who demean their gender with shockingly casual cruelty.

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