For the first time, a Republican presidential candidate has named a woman as campaign manager. It's a bit late -- Susan Estrich and Donna Brazile got there decades ago on the Democratic side. Still, I keep hearing that it's a mark of progress, which will appeal to women voters, that Kellyanne Conway is Donald Trump's new campaign manager.
I can't agree.
The fact is that the Trump campaign is so steeped in misogyny that appointing a woman as campaign manager won't be nearly enough to convince women to vote for him. Especially a woman with Conway's extremist views.
Consider this, from an article in Jezebel:
To get a sense of Conway's perspective on gender and the "gender gap," take the speech she gave to the Conservative Women's Network in 2011, an event co-sponsored by the very conservative Clare Boothe Luce Foundation and Heritage Foundation. In the speech, Conway bemoans feminism as "gloom and doom," and argues that "femininity is replacing feminism as a leading attribute for American women." She then continues with some familiar talking points for conservative women, namely that hating men ("the revulsion towards men in your life") is "part and parcel of the feminist movement." She also shares some helpful fashion tips like, "If women want to be taken seriously in the workforce, looking feminine is a good place to start."
Kellyanne Conway has made a career out of trying to help far right-wing candidates get votes from women, despite the fact that they consistently promote anti-woman policies. Her roster of clients includes Todd Akin, the former U.S. Congressman and failed Senate candidate. As readers may recall, Akin justified criminalizing all abortions, including when the pregnancy results from rape, this way: "It seems to be, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, it's really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down."
After Akin lost the election, Conway reportedly counseled Republican conservatives to simply stop talking about rape -- not that they should rethink their wildly unpopular ideas to ban all abortions under all circumstances. She likes to say, "we need to address women from the waist up," meaning, stay away from discussions about reproductive health care. But if she thinks evasiveness will fool women voters, she should think again.
While Conway has been the most visible public face of the Trump campaign in recent days, appearing on TV almost as many times as her boss used to, reportedly the political strategy is being shaped by Breitbart's Steve Bannon (the darling of the white nationalist "alt-right" crowd) and disgraced former Fox News chief Roger Ailes (who stands accused of horrific serial sexual harassment).
According to Politico:
"Kellyanne is not a campaign manager in the traditional sense of the word. She got the title as part of combat pay," said one source involved with the discussions. "She's the candidate manager, which considering how tough it is to manage someone like Donald -- who has the temperament of a 12-year-old who always gets what he wants -- is a far harder job."
By all accounts, Conway is smart and talented. But to bring women voters on board, she will need to do a lot more than manage her candidate. The problem is not simply how he comes across -- although certainly it is a huge drawback that he is seen as a racist, xenophobic, misogynistic man with the emotional self-control of a spoiled child. An even greater problem is that this spoiled child has truly terrible policy ideas.
- Trump opposes sensible gun regulations, even though the risk of a domestic violence homicide is five times greater when there is a gun in the house.
- Trump's idea of child care assistance is to give big tax breaks to the wealthiest families, leaving those who need help the most -- women in lower-income categories -- with little or nothing.
- Trump's advice to women who face sexual harassment at work is to go find another career.
- Trump wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, ending the requirement of full coverage for birth control, bringing back coverage denials for "pre-existing conditions," and forcing millions of women and their families to lose their health insurance altogether.
- Trump supports overturning Roe v. Wade, even though according to a recent survey 53 percent of people who identify as pro-life say they want Roe to remain the law of the land, and acknowledged that "there has to be some form of punishment" for women seeking abortions.
No amount of spin can overcome this reality: Women voters are all too familiar with the authentic Donald J. Trump; that is why they reject him. At the end of the day, they are as turned off by his anti-woman policies as by his calling women "disgusting," "bimbos," and "fat pigs."
We can all be happy for Kellyanne Conway that when the history of this campaign is written, she will be remembered as a pioneering Republican who broke an important gender barrier. But that doesn't give her a pass on matters of judgement, policy or philosophy.