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What Conservatives Don’t Get About Identity Politics

Of course we shouldn't vote simply on the basis of group identity. We shouldn't ignore it either.

Last December, I completed a 2 year term as the president of my county’s Republican Women’s club. It was a long and miserable 2 years. Not only did it coincide with the brutal 2016 campaign and the exodus of many women from the Republican party, but one of my duties was attending regular state meetings. At each one, we had a local (male) politician as guest speaker. Every speech was essentially the same: “Women are the backbone of the Republican party. I couldn’t have won my last election without all of the hard working Republican women who campaigned for me. Now, y’all enjoy your crappy lunch. I have to run because I have important legislating to do.” OK, I may be paraphrasing a bit here. But when I talked with many of my fellow club presidents, they had the same feeling that we were being dismissed and condescended to. One laughed at my speech synopsis and said “I thought it was just ME.” Another suggested we should try to get a woman speaker next time. “Great idea.” I replied. “WHO?”

And that was the problem. In a state completely governed by Republicans, we did not have a single woman elected to statewide office. Our entire Congressional delegation consisted entirely of men (in BOTH parties.) We only have 2 Republican women state senators and a handful of women Representatives. Many party leaders recognize the problem and have attempted to recruit more women candidates. But it’s been a hard sell for the candidates AND the voters.

Part of this problem is because of Republican women themselves. They tend to be more traditional and less career oriented. They also are far less likely than their liberal sisters to engage in identity politics. During the infamous CD6 race in 2017, I listened as some of my friends debated the merits of Bob Gray versus Judson Hill. You know whose name DIDN’T come up? Karen Handel, the woman who went on to win. Apparently, it didn’t even occur to the members of a Republican women’s group that maybe they should be supporting the WOMAN in the race. But if Republican women don’t make a special effort to support other Republican women, then who will?

Many Republicans don’t see a lack of diversity as a problem. After all, Republicans are more likely to vote based on issues than identity. But in order to win general elections, we have to attract independent voters as well. And they are more likely to be swayed by candidates they can relate to. The sad truth is, most people choose candidates out of emotion and not reason. Sometimes, it’s because of their identity. Sometimes, there’s just something about a candidate that inspires voters. A candidate can look great on paper, support all of the right policies, and still just fall flat on the campaign trail. Scott Walker’s presidential run was a great example. A lot of my friends supported him in the primary. They insisted a governor was better than a Senator because he had that executive experience. But after hearing him speak live (and tell the same corny joke about his wife and the Kohl’s cash for the 20th time) I could tell he wasn’t going to make it.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am certainly not advocating that anyone should vote for a candidate just because they’re (fill in the blank here.) But yes, I confess that I would LOVE to see a woman president in my lifetime. Not bad enough to vote for Hillary Clinton (or Elizabeth Warren) mind you, but still. I’ll never forget the day that John McCain announced Sarah Palin as his running mate. Before she went all Hollywood, there was a lot to admire about Palin. I was a fan before the white hot national spotlight hit her (afterwards, not so much.) My mother was in the hospital at the time, so we watched the news conference together on the TV in her room. “Just think,” I told her: “We might be looking at our first woman president!” Clearly, I was wrong about that. But at the time, it made us both happy. Now, if Palin were to run again in the future, I can pretty much guarantee that I would not support her. But if Nikki Haley runs, I will quit my day job to go campaign for her!

Conservatives were dismissive of Obama’s appeal among black voters. How could so many support a man promoting such socialist policies? But the pull of identity was strong. Black Americans were overcome with pride at seeing “one of their own” reach the White House. And they saw any attack on HIM as an attack on THEM. Think that’s ridiculous? Well, how many Trump supporters feel exactly the same way about Trump? Some even accepted Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables” label as a point of pride. Many conservatives have been amazed at the meteoric rise of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But she didn’t beat out Joe Crowley in the Democratic primary because Bronx voters suddenly became enamored of Socialism. She beat him because that district has become increasingly Hispanic, and voters chose her over the old white dude.

Sometimes, the problem with the GOP’s lack of diversity becomes apparent during times of conflict. None more so than in last year’s Kavanaugh hearings. Because there was not a single Republican woman Senator on the judiciary committee, they had to hire “outside counsel” to question Christine Blasey Ford. It was a good move, but one that could have been avoided. Mitch McConnell has already appointed Joni Ernst and Marsha Blackburn to that committee this term. They will be the first Republican women ever to serve on that committee.

Feminists are wrong to insist that all women have to hold the same views, particularly on abortion. Many of us are pro-life, and because of that feel excluded from the feminist sisterhood. But when legislation is being debated about abortion and birth control, having conservative women involved would be a tremendous help. If nothing else, it would dispel the notion that a bunch of men are passing laws about women’s bodies. I often find myself frustrated with male Republican friends, even my fellow writers here whom I respect very much, when topics like sexual assault and harassment come up. I find myself wanting to shake some of them and say “You just don’t GET IT.” Even Republican women who supported Kavanaugh seemed to have a lot of sympathy for Dr. Ford. Probably because so many of us have had experiences with assault and harassment. We just don’t feel that because some bad men have done some bad things that all men are guilty of everything they’re accused of.

Tim Scott has found himself at odds with other Republicans for the same reason. He recently opposed one of President Trump’s judicial nominee Thomas Farr because of his past civil rights record. As a staunch conservative, he rejects the notion that racism is they explanation of every problem in the black community. But having been the recipient of it, he’s painfully aware that it exists.

Identity politics is poisoning our political system because so many people are motivated by group identity over political ideology. The worst problem the Democratic party has is their insistence that they are the party of blacks, Hispanics, Asians, women, gays and every other minority group out there simply on the basis of identity.

The worst problem that the Republican party has is pretending that identity politics doesn’t exist.

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