The Ripon Forum

Volume 53, No. 1

February 2019

Building a More Diverse GOP

By on February 19, 2019


There is a crisis in Washington among Republicans that has been ignored over the last few election cycles.

House Republicans – reduced to 197 members (with two vacancies) after the 2018 midterms – count among their ranks only 13 women members plus two non-voting female delegates from Puerto Rico and American Samoa. Republican women make up just 6% of the House GOP Conference and are just 12% of the total number of women in the House.

This is an abysmally small percentage of representation for a party claiming to be – striving to be – a national party.

In contrast, the 89 female Democrats in Congress account for nearly forty percent of their caucus and have seen their numbers more than double from 41 female members two decades ago.

While the number of Democrat women in the House has steadily increased over the last three decades, Republican women in the House are at their lowest point since they added six female members to their ranks in the 1994 midterm landslide. The 1994 Republican Revolution brought more Republican women to Washington, but it wasn’t a sustaining trend.

Republican women make up just 6% of the House GOP Conference and are just 12% of the total number of women in the House.

In the 2016 presidential election, women were 53 percent of the electorate and supported Hillary Clinton by 13 points, 54-41 according to national exit polls.

Last year, the 2018 midterm election narrative was dominated first by women’s marches, then by the fundraising success of Democratic female candidates, and ultimately by female midterm voters who sent a record number of Democratic women to Congress. It was those midterm elections that cut the number of GOP women in the House from 25 to 13.

As I said, it’s a crisis. But in every crisis, there is opportunity.

One Republican woman seeking to address the crisis is Representative Elise Stefanik, who has not only been willing to speak up about the lack of women in the GOP caucus, but stands prepared to do something about it.

Stefanik hails from upstate New York and before coming to Congress worked in the Bush White House and later managed Paul Ryan’s Vice-Presidential debate preparation. In 2014, she became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, a distinction now held by fellow New Yorker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Last cycle, Stefanik helmed the NRCC’s recruitment program, where she helped recruit more than 100 women to run for the House in 2018. Only West Virginia’s Carol Miller made it to Congress out of those 100 candidates, with many failing to secure the GOP nomination.

Stefanik herself understands the difficulty; in 2014, she not only won a Democrat-held seat but first had to win a hard-fought seven-figure primary. Now, she hopes to help more GOP women do the same and has turned her attention to not just recruiting strong female candidates, but to helping provide them with resources, campaign skills, advice, and connections important to winning general elections — but more importantly, primaries.

This is an abysmally small percentage of representation for a party claiming to be – striving to be – a national party.

It isn’t just a problem in Washington; women are underrepresented in the state legislatures that often serve as training grounds for members of Congress. And fewer state and local female GOP officeholders means fewer potential candidates with policy and political experience, name ID, and fundraising experience that can only be gained by running for and serving in state and local office. This is precisely the gap Stefanik seeks to help candidates bridge.

The Republican leadership and the National Republican Congressional Committee have been supportive of Stefanik’s efforts. And even though the NRCC won’t take sides in primary races – as Stefanik is ready and willing to do – there will be an added emphasis on recruiting female candidates who can win in 2020.

Leading that effort as NRCC Recruitment Chair will be Indiana Congresswoman Susan Brooks, a former U.S. Attorney who, like Stefanik, won election to Congress after a bruising primary election she wasn’t supposed to win. Brooks has consistently been among the highest GOP vote-getters in her suburban Indianapolis district.

What Brooks and Stefanik both understand is that the Republican Party’s struggles with women voters is reflected in its makeup in Congress. Fewer female members of Congress means fewer female voices on television and in communities advocating for Republican principles. More than half of voters are women, and those voters need to hear from women on both sides of every debate.

Republicans have acknowledged this problem, and those like Stefanik endeavor to do something about it, but no one should expect the gender disparity among House Republicans to dissipate overnight. It will take a sustained effort, but already there are promising signs. Strong female candidates are stepping forward to run in districts across the country, with dozens more considering bids.

The most assured way to increase the ranks of GOP women is by recruiting a massive number of candidates and then helping them acquire the tools they need to fight through primary elections on their way to 2020. And that is exactly what Stefanik aims to do.

Cam Savage is a principal and co-founder of Limestone Strategies, a political consulting firm located in Indianapolis, Ind. and Washington, D.C. He is a former regional political director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


If you enjoyed this article, subscribe now to receive more just like it.

Comments are closed.