The “War on Women,” as a political message, has been relatively effective for Democratic candidates even in spite of its intellectual emptiness and its fabricated premises. But the attack on Republicans as hostile to women’s health issues have thus far been largely successful, in no small part due to a credulous and uncurious media which has repeated them uncritically. That has not been the case this cycle.
Republicans deserve most of the credit for dismantling this baseless and cynical political attack; the most effective of which has been a stance adopted by candidates like Cory Gardner and Thom Tillis, among others, which advocates for increased access to contraception via over-the-counter methods. It is impossible to perpetuate the fiction that liberal groups like Planned Parenthood want more access to birth control when they oppose a plan to increase access to birth control.
But as Democratic offensives in the greater War on Women are dashed against the GOP’s rebuilt defenses, the left’s candidates have only grown more desperate. In their fraught attempts to reignite this line of attack which proved so successful in 2012, they have lost even their allies in the press. Even The Denver Post, not a venue traditionally friendly to Republican candidates, excoriated Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) expressly because of his unsubstantiated, one-note campaign against Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO).
The latest evidence we have that the “War on Women” is yielding diminishing returns for Democrats comes from that hotbed of conservatism, New York State. In a debate last week between the candidates vying to represent New York’s 23rd congressional district, candidate Martha Robertson’s invocation of the great “War” landed with a thud.
NY23 is not a deeply conservative district. Though it was recently subject to reapportionment, the district voted for Barack Obama in 2008 with 52 percent. In 2010, some political analysts believed that a special election in which Democratic Bill Owens defeated conservative Doug Hoffman (and withdrawn “Republican” Dede Scozzafava who remained on the ballot despite endorsing Owens) was an indication that the GOP brand would not be rehabilitated before that year’s midterm elections. In 2012, after reapportionment, Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) defeated his Democratic opponent by slightly less than 4 points.
Now, candidates pack the halls of debates with their supporters, and the fact that a Democratic line fell flat in a debate is, in isolation, no indication of a greater trend. But this has not occurred in a vacuum — it happened against a backdrop which clearly indicates that the “War on Women” is no longer the effective mobilization tactic for Democrats that it once was.