As the Republican party struggles to rebrand itself to win back women voters, former HP executive and rumored presidential candidate Carly Fiorina told attendees this week that the concept of a Republican “war on women” is “a lie.”
“Women are not single issue voters, and we’re not a special interest group,” she said at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). “No one would expect that all men agree or care about only one issue, but somehow Democrats think all women do or should.”
The “one issue” she referred to was reproductive rights, and even as she argued this was not an important topic for women voters, she called on Republicans to pass further restrictions on access to health care, including a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and a ban on taxpayer subsidies to help low-income women access abortion. She also called for banning abortions based on the sex of the fetus — a policy largely based on racial stereotypes that has been promoted by conservatives despite a lack of evidence that such abortions take place.
“Too many women are influenced by the rhetoric of the ‘War on Women’ and don’t know how to push back,” Fiorina said. “So I took on the war on women and tried to lay out the facts.” But Fiorina’s facts often missed the mark. She told the audience that the Supreme Court ruling last year that allowed employers to deny insurance coverage for contraception was no big deal, saying, “Women had plenty of access to birth control both before and after the decision.” Like many in her party, Fiorina focused on the legal right to purchase birth control, a right that means nothing if women workers can’t afford it without insurance.
Fiorina then claimed that “women are disengaged from the political process because they don’t like the vitriol. They feel marginalized by both parties.” Yet in recent years, women have turned out to vote at higher rates than men. And a poll last year found that women overwhelmingly believe Republicans are out of touch with their interests.
Turning to economic issues, Fiorina hit Democrats for framing their push to raise the minimum wage as a women’s issue — though at least two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women. Fiorina asserted — incorrectly — that 62 percent of minimum wage workers are still in high school, when the real number is closer to a third. “The real war on women is being waged by liberal policies in communities across America,” she argued. Other CPAC speakers with presidential aspirations joined Fiorina in dismissing the need to raise the minimum wage. “No parents are sitting around a kitchen table saying if our child could get a higher minimum wage, my gosh, every one of our aspirations for them would be realized,” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said.
Both Christie and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker also used their stage time at CPAC to tout their records of cutting funding for Planned Parenthood, which has cut off access to cancer screenings, abortion care, prenatal care, and STD testing for thousands of women in those states.
Jokes with sexist overtones also surfaced repeatedly over the multi-day conference.
Conservative talk radio host Laura Ingraham suggested Jeb Bush would win lots of female votes because he allowed his wife to drop tens of thousands of dollars on jewelry.
“Jeb could really explode the gender gap. Women could really turn out in droves for Jeb Bush,” she said. “What woman doesn’t like a man who gives her a blank check at Tiffany’s? Diamonds are a girl’s best friend — that would be a great theme song for Jeb Bush.”
Later on Saturday, Fox News host Sean Hannity — in a rambling joke about Democrats continuing to blame everything on George W. Bush — told the audience:
“I kinda have Fox X-ray vision, and I can see that some of you women, you don’t even know it yet, but you’re pregnant. It’s not your fault. It’s not his fault.”
The comment drew little laughter and audible discomfort from the audience.
Later, CPAC presented Phil Robertson from the show Duck Dynasty with their “First Amendment” award, and the bearded reality TV personality gave a long speech that included some unsolicited advice to 2016 hopefuls: “In case one of you gets to be president of the United States, make sure you carry your Bible and your woman,” he said. “I’m just saying, safety. Safety.”
For the 99 percent of attendees not running for President, he counseled: “You marry, you keep your sex right there. You won’t get sick from a sexually transmitted disease.”