OPINION: Intra-Party Misogyny Does Not Spare Republicans


Noah Butler

   On August 2, 2018, the Republican primary for Governor of Tennessee ended with the outsider candidate with no political experience on top. Diane Black, being the first female Chair of the House Budget Committee and having positive relations with the President, was seen as a formidable candidate with an equally formidable war chest and high-profile Washington connections—she also entered the race with the distinction of having the highest negatives among voters. Why did the most experienced candidate, with supposedly the most conservative Republican support, end up in third place—losing to a candidate who held virtually the same positions as her? Bill Lee and other Republicans will tell you it’s because Lee ran no negative ads during the course of his campaign and benefited from his outsider status; however, extensive research has been conducted, locally and nationally, that show the effectiveness of negative ads—even if people say they do not like them—and received praise from the Republican base when those negative ads were used against Hillary Clinton. The attempts to label Congressman Black as “part of the swamp” and as opposed to the President’s agenda gained some traction, but this, combined with the much more nefarious elements of covert and internalized misogyny, was the ultimate cause of her defeat. Diane was subjected to the same sexism directed at Hillary Clinton by Republican voters, except in a much more clandestine way.

Having personally known the Congressman and having been involved in her prior congressional campaigns, I experienced first-hand what was said about her daily—from negative phone calls, reception while canvassing, and even berating comments on her social media posts. After the election of Donald Trump, the GOP base has become increasingly unabashed about its partisan and right-wing rhetoric and this was, in my opinion, definitely reflected in Tennessee’s gubernatorial primary and has been present in many Republican primaries across the nation, particularly in states with more socially conservative voters. Many comments directed at Diane were that she was anti-Trump and a negative and hateful person for running a copious amount of attack ads on the other candidates. So, why is it okay for Donald Trump to run the most negative campaign in modern U.S. history against Hillary Clinton—calling her vicious, misogynistic, and deceitful things—but it is not okay for a woman Republican politician to do the same against her fellow-party, male opponents without being shredded by the party’s base? Republican women have to constantly perform a balancing act in order to keep from angering their base by not mentioning their gender in almost any circumstance, unless they have been posed a direct question that concerns their gender—even then the issue is danced around and pivoted off of into a rigmarole about merit.

If Diane won the governorship, she would have been the first female governor of Tennessee; however, this fact was barely mentioned except in the circumstances in which it was brought up by a reporter or interviewer. Most Republican women avoid the issue of gender like the plague. In Diane’s case, this was never enough. Sexism is a pervasive disease in the social/right-wing base of the party that also affects how Republican women their perception and posturing about women’s rights issues. During the confirmation process of Brett Kavanaugh, only Lisa Murkowski bucked the party line to vote against Kavanaugh, and the supposedly moderate, pro-choice Susan Collins gave a lengthy speech finding any way to defend her subsequent “yes” vote. Murkowski has been subjected to vile verbal abuse and harassment from supporters of Kavanaugh, but she won a write-in campaign after she lost the Alaskan Republican primary in 2010 so she is insulated from partisan pressure, unlike other Republican women across the nation. Marsha Blackburn, who voted against the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act in favor of the more lackluster Republican alternative, has made her support for Kavanaugh and the President the centerpiece of her campaign and it would have been political suicide for her and anyone who draws their support from the same base to announce that they would have voted against Kavanaugh. A Republican man or woman would be lambasted by the base for voting against the President’s agenda, but when it’s a woman, their intentions are almost immediately tied to their gender and held against them by Republican voters. Social conservatives don’t always show their disdain for female Republican politicians through blunt sexist language, it is often coded and micro-aggressive—coming from both men and women.

Right-wing Republican voters show disdain for both men and women politicians from their party who do not blindly follow the President’s and GOP’s agenda, but the malice directed towards women politicians is the most subversive and a contributor to why they are not many women elected officials. The constant fear of retaliation from the GOP base for not holding the exact same positions and not sharing enough values with the Democratic party to actually run as a Democrat dampens the ambitions of many prospective moderate female candidates and the desire for power keeps women Republican officials—in those socially conservative districts and states—in the game of avoiding gender at all costs.