With Senator Jim DeMint's pending departure in January to head up The Heritage Foundation, the Republican Party faces its first political test after its much-publicized soul-searching following Mitt Romney's defeat by Barack Obama. The party of personal responsibility looked everywhere but in the mirror to explain Romney's defeat, having blamed sexually active single women, Obama's alleged pandering to college students, Latino/as, African Americans and GLBT Americans, a crashed Election Day voter-turnout database, bad polling numbers, a natural disaster, and messages that failed to resonate with voters.
Growing attention is being paid to the incongruity between the composition of GOP leadership compared to the ethnic, gender, age, and economic diversity of the American populace. As Michael Tanner wrote for the National Review Online:
This election is testimony to the fact that Republicans cannot survive by being the party of old white men. The white share of the electorate has steadily declined for the last several elections, and this time around, whites accounted for just 72 percent of the vote ... [S]ingle women now outnumber married women in the electorate, and they favored Obama by roughly 30 points. Moreover, the youth vote was larger this year than in 2008, and Obama dominated that too. American voters have changed, but Republicans haven't changed with them.
DeMint's replacement initially will be determined by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley before a 2014 special election to fill the seat. With media reporting Haley has ruled out giving herself a D.C. promotion, Beltway insiders already have all but anointed Rep. Tim Scott as DeMint's successor. Other names rumored to be part of Haley's political calculations include current Rep. Mick Mulvaney, GOP fundraiser and DeMint confidante Barry Wynn, former South Carolina attorney general Henry McMaster and former Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins.
Despite the history that would be made with Scott's becoming the second black Republican U.S. senator since Reconstruction, there should be no expectation that a Scott appointment would address any of the GOP's problems of its policies and values being out of synch with the majority of American voters. From a staunch anti-woman's-rights record marked by anti-abortion votes and efforts to defund Planned Parenthood to opposing marriage equality, Scott has a record that mirrors DeMint's and would be expected to fill DeMint's conservative footsteps.
Very little attention has been paid to voters' disenchantment with the policies and values put forth by DeMint-style Republicans. DeMint's GOP is the party whose majority in the U.S. House of Representatives voted against women's rights 19 of the 25 weeks Congress was in session in 2011 and 19 of the 21 weeks it met in 2012, retained counsel to uphold the Defense of Marriage Act, held up reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, and originally appointed only white males to committee leadership positions for the next Congress. DeMint's GOP is the party whose Senate caucus blocked ratification of an international treaty protecting the rights of disabled individuals that was modeled on the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Yet between Obama's carrying women voters nationwide in 2012 and 2008 by 18 and 12 points, respectively and the GOP's multitude of votes against women and lack of women leaders in Congress, there's little denying the Republican Party has a woman problem. And yet, women are glaringly absent from the speculation about who should be tapped to replace DeMint.
South Carolina ranks 50th for the proportion of women serving in its legislature, the same ignominious ranking it has held for the last decade. Despite just 10 percent of its legislative seats being held by women for the last 10 years, the Palmetto State has seen four women break the glass ceiling that the state legislature often becomes for women across the country to hold statewide elected office: Haley as governor; Democrat Inez Tenenbaum and Republican Barbara Nielsen as superintendent of education; and Democrat Nancy Stevenson as lieutenant governor. Yet at the federal level, it's been 20 years since a woman represented South Carolina in Congress, when Democrat Elizabeth Patterson served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1987-1993.
It might not be binders full of women, but Haley certainly could turn to the so-called Republican Underground, which includes socially libertarian organizations like The Republican Majority for Choice, GOProud, Republican Main Street Partnership, for Republican women to fill DeMint's seat. She also could turn to state Rep. Jenny Horne or Barbara Rackes, who teamed up through the Southeastern Institute of Women in Politics to increase women's political participation in South Carolina, or South Carolina Gubernatorial Appointments Project (SC GAP) co-chairs Candy Waites and Deb Sofield, who collaborated to increase the number of women in senior-level appointed positions in South Carolina, for recommendations of women to put on the short list.
And when voters decide who will fill DeMint's seat during a 2014 special election, Tenenbaum shouldn't be ruled out as a viable Democratic candidate. Tenenbaum has served as chair of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission since 2009, a position whose term expires in October 2013. History demonstrates Democratic women can win statewide positions, although recent statewide races have not been kind to Democrats: Obama lost South Carolina by 10.47 percent in 2012 and by 8.97 percent in 2008 and Haley won the 2010 governor's race by a 4.46 percent margin.
What was the point of the GOP's post-election post-mortem if the party fails to act in ways that set the party on a trajectory that differs from the status quo? An excellent place to demonstrate which lessons were learned during the 2012 cycle would be for Gov. Haley to buck the conservative chattering class to appoint any number of qualified women to fill the DeMint vacancy.