Pre-1980, there was much less differentiation between the parties on what we now call “women’s issues,” partly because Republicans were in many ways more liberal then. Look at Republican Party platforms from the 1970s, and you’ll see that the GOP not only endorsed the Equal Rights Amendment but also bragged that it was the first national party to do so. The 1972 platform called for the federal government to develop more child-care services. The 1976 platform pledged to support “part-time and flexible-time work that enables men and women to combine employment and family responsibilities.” Even the party’s position on abortion was a little mealy-mouthed (“The Republican Party favors a continuance of the public dialogue”), despite ultimately calling for a constitutional ban.
Then, as it lined up behind Reagan in 1980, the GOP pivoted rightward. The platform dropped official support for the ERA, fretted about the destruction of the “traditional American family” and emphasized that the private sector should deal with child-care issues.
“In the past it could be said that there wasn’t a sort of winner or loser in terms of the positions you took on women’s issues. Gerald Ford was as supportive of women’s issues as Jimmy Carter was,” says Kathleen Dolan, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. “It wasn’t until Reagan that Republicans clearly showed women that there are sides.”