It’s clear now that Republican rebranding simply ain’t gonna happen. To win votes from the voters more inclined to vote for them, Republicans — when the chips are down or even when they’re up — have to use language that will turn off many women voters. And with social media, the Internet, and the growth of ideological radio and cable talk shows, the campaign rhetoric is communicated all over the country — which contributes to an image. And the image now communicated one by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s campaign sounds as if they’ve watched too many episodes of the 1960’s period soap opera “Mad Men.”
A month after Kentucky Democratic senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes pulled slightly ahead of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) in the polls, Republican strategists seem to be sharpening their claws.
Brad Dayspring, communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, called Grimes “an empty dress” in an interview with The Hill published Wednesday.
The insults continued from there.
“Alison Lundergan Grimes seems incapable of articulating her own thoughts, and faced with questions, either directly parrots the talking points handed to her by [Sen.] Chuck Schumer or she babbles incoherently and stares blankly into the camera as though she’s a freshman in high school struggling to remember the CliffsNotes after forgetting to read her homework assignment,” Dayspring told The Hill.
This whole quote will be taken by many women as an absolutely sexist comment playing on several stereotypes of women that were prevelent in the 1950s and early 60s. Lundergan’s team answered:
“This degrading and offensive comment from McConnell’s campaign team is appalling and he should condemn it immediately,” Grimes spokeswoman Charly Norton told The Huffington Post. “It shows his team’s true feelings towards women and continues his disgraceful pattern of not standing up for the women of Kentucky. From misleading Kentuckians on his votes against the Violence Against Women Act, to voting against equal pay for equal work, Senator McConnell has failed to lead on issues important to women and their families.”
Indeed, a commercial reportedly paints McConnell as a courageous champion of women in his many votes. The problem: it has not held up to scrutiny.
“Republicans think a substance-free insult is the right way to deal with a qualified, popular woman challenger – at least their rhetoric is consistent with their anti-woman policies,” said Jess McIntosh, communications director at EMILY’s List, which endorsed Grimes.
But McIntosh is a bit
inaccurate here: the Republican Party is in the grip of the talk radio political culture where candidates now handle challenges by acting as if they want to be ranting, insulting substitute talk show hosts for Michael Savage or Mark Levin. The issues are minor: it’s the snappy sounding insulting sound bites that are red meat to the faithful but turn off voters who are wavering, or voters whose prime interest is finding out where candidates stand on actual issues.
“The only surprising part of all this is the GOP’s continued unwillingness to understand that other women –- including Kentucky women -– can hear them when they say this stuff. It’s why women turned out in historic numbers for Democratic candidates last election, and it’s why we’ll see a repeat next November.”
The smart money is still on McConnell winning re-election if he wins his primary.
And you might also put some smart money on this exchange doing further damage overall to the Republican Party’s image among women.
Calling Lundergan an “empty dress” will make many women think of Republicans who seem to be unable to help themselves from talking disdainfully about women as a bunch of full sitz baths.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.