Why don’t Republican women have a problem with Rick Santorum?

posted at 3:05 pm on March 20, 2012 by Tina Korbe

The Fix’s Chris Cillizza marvels at Rick Santorum’s increasing polling strength among Republican women, as measured by a new Washington Post/ABC News poll:

Judging from the coverage of Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign over the last few weeks, you might think that the former Pennsylvania Senator’s numbers would be cratering among women.

But you would be wrong. Way wrong.

In a new Washington Post-ABC poll, Santorum’s numbers among Republican and Republican-leaning women have soared over the past month. He now has the highest favorability rating among that group of any of the top-tier Republican presidential candidates. …

The poll numbers reinforce findings from recent exit polls that suggest Santorum is holding steady — if not strengthening — among Republican women. In Alabama, Santorum beat former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney by eight points among women; in Mississippi, Santorum took 35 percent among women to 32 percent for Romney.

Cillizza cites three theories for why Santorum has proved so popular with the fairer sex. One theory suggests his increased favorability rating among females is just the result of growing recognition of Santorum’s name, in general. Another suggests women find him a sympathetic figure because he has endured a relentless onslaught of attacks for his social views from the media. A third suggests that he’s successfully framed the key “women’s issue” of this election — the contraception mandate — as more about government encroachment on personal beliefs than about contraception itself.

None of these theories goes far enough. Increased name recognition, for example, doesn’t explain why women like Santorum more than men do. The media theory discounts the truth that all the GOP candidates have been relentlessly vetted by the MSM. The third theory ignores that Santorum hasn’t always done a good job framing the contraception issue in terms of freedom.

So what is it? As a Republican woman who has liked Rick Santorum ever since I first read of his pro-life work as a senator (in an e-mail from a pro-life list-serv to which I was subscribed), I can at least speak for myself. I appreciate that Rick Santorum speaks up for the many women in this country who do have radically different views from the mainstream about what women are uniquely able to offer to society. For too long, feminists have pretended to speak for all of us — as though we are all eager to neuter ourselves, to obliterate gender difference, to deny our own fertility. When Santorum speaks about social issues, I hear in his voice a kind of awe at the mystery of womanhood that is sadly lacking among liberals. His awareness that only women can be mothers — and that mothering, whether physical or spiritual, is something every society needs — permeates his views about, for example, contraception and stay-at-home motherhood as one of the most important careers a woman can choose. Plenty of women never articulate their views about what it means to be a woman, but most of us sense innately that we are different from men and that, in that difference, there is also a complementarity. When we pretend to be like men to prove our equality, that complementarity is lost. When we embrace what makes us women — namely, our unique ability to give birth to the next generation (again, both physically and spiritually) — that complementarity is restored. Santorum encourages us to do just that — to embrace our womanhood.

It’s crazy, isn’t it? That a man has, in a way, become the first in a long time to speak up for the right of women to be women. While the rest of society tells us our fertility is a disease, Santorum tells us (and shows us by his own family) it’s our glory and our strength, our greatest source of influence. What woman wouldn’t like to hear that? We’re not just our fertility, of course, and not all women are able to physically have children, but I fail to see how the denial of a woman’s potential for physical and spiritual motherhood is at all empowering or uplifting.

Again, I speak only for myself here, but I’d be very surprised if many women, even if only subconsciously, aren’t drawn to Santorum as a candidate for the same reasons I am.


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