This week, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus unveiled a report on why the party fared so poorly in the 2012 elections.
The report focuses on tactics -- not on substantive positions. While it does pay lip service to the Republicans' failure to connect with women, the report largely blames voter turnout operations, messaging, and other tactical failures for the GOP's losses in 2012 and utterly fails to recognize that the candidates'positions on women's health were defining and decisive issues.
In fact, one of the recommendations of the report reads:
The RNC should implement training programs for messaging, communications, and recruiting that address the best ways to communicate with women. According to the liberal group Center for American Progress, the No. 2 issue for female voters this election was "a candidate who will fight for them." Our candidates, spokespeople and staff need to use language that addresses concerns that are on women's minds in order to let them know we are fighting for them.
The Republican Party leadership still doesn't get it. The American people -- including most Republicans -- do not want politicians to interfere with women's personal health care decisions. Candidates who would limit access to birth control, overturn Roe v. Wade, and defund Planned Parenthood lost in November because the majority of voters disagree with their agenda. And they will not be fooled by a different communications strategy
Candidates like Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, and Joe Walsh didn't lose because they made outrageous comments about rape and women, which were then featured in the media - they lost because their comments confirmed their dangerous positions about women's health, which were in fact reflected in the GOP platform.
It is not Republican voters who oppose women's health -- it is the Republican Party leadership, which has turned its back on decades of mainstream support for family planning from presidents like Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush and ignored the fact that many of its rank-and-file members support women's access to health care.
There are some basic truths that are missing from the report.
First, the Republican Party leadership's problem isn't that voters don't know their positions on women's health -- it is that voters don't support their positions.
Similarly, the Republican Party didn't have a problem turning voters out in 2012 -- it had a problem finding enough voters who believe that women's health care decisions should be made by politicians.
Finally, the media didn't create the public's interest in women's health issues in the last election -- the majority of voters in this country are women, and they care about whether candidates believe they should be able to get cancer screenings, have access to birth control, and hold on to the ability to make their own medical decisions.
More than ever before in our lifetime, women's health played a decisive role in the 2012 election. Women decided this election, and candidates' positions on women's health were a defining issue.
During the Republican presidential primaries, the country watched in shock as the candidates tried to outdo each other on who could be most extreme when it came to birth control, abortion, and access to family planning. In key primaries in states across the country, Tea Party extremists beat mainstream Republicans with positions that turned off the broader electorate.
In fact, by the time the presidential campaign was winding down, Mitt Romney had begun to air ads intended to muddy the waters about his clearly stated positions threatening safe and legal abortion, access to birth control, and even Planned Parenthood's preventive health services. Perhaps the clearest sign that Romney's positions were out of step with most Americans is that he tried to hide his positions. Meanwhile, candidates who support women's health made those positions a centerpiece of their campaigns.
Here are five facts about the election that Republican Party leadership has so far ignored:
- The gender gap in the presidential election was 18 points, the highest ever recorded by Gallup.
- Independents said that because of the candidates' positions on abortion, they were more likely to vote for Obama over Romney by 30 points.
- Latinos were more likely to support Obama for his views on access to affordable birth control (64 percent), abortion (65 percent), and federal funding for Planned Parenthood (60 percent).
- Among all women voters, including Republican women, 66 percent said Romney would have been too conservative on women's health issues, including funding for Planned Parenthood.
- Voters -- especially women -- ranked President Obama's support of federal funding for Planned Parenthood's preventive health services as one of the top five reasons they voted for him.
Most importantly, by failing to look honestly at how the Republican Party leadership's position on women's health led to its losses in 2012, today's report ignores the will of most Republicans. Near majorities of Republicans believe abortion should remain safe and legal. Additionally, six of ten Republicansbelieve that during tough economic times, it is important to reduce unplanned pregnancy by increasing women's access to birth control. On all of these questions, the party's leadership and leading candidates disagree.
Until the Republican Party's leadership and standard-bearers reflect the views of the national electorate -- and even their own members, they are destined to repeat the mistakes -- and the outcome -- of the 2012 election.