The polls were barely closed Nov. 8 before Republicans all over the country uncorked the champagne, and the celebrating hasn't stopped since.
Having won with the male vote in 1994, Republican strategists--who are, not coincidentally, all themselves men--will undoubtedly continue to rely on this group as the key to 1996. A key component of their strategy involves catering to the religious-right groups claiming credit for this year's Republican victories. The so-called gender gap, which helped Democrats take so many races in 1992 by winning a majority of the women's votes, proved inconsequential this year. The social issues that tend to be a priority for women voters were not factors in 1994.
But if Republican movers and shakers believe that they've overcome the problems that cost them the executive branch in 1992, they're in for a rude awakening come November, 1996.
By keeping counsel only with those like themselves, these men are ignoring the gradual change in the national electorate over the past decade, which has seen a steady erosion in party loyalty. Human nature being what it is, they will probably continue to do so until they've lost enough national elections that they're supplanted by a younger, more in-touch--and, dare I say it?--perhaps more diverse group of strategists.
Consider this: Since 1989, I have spoken with many lifelong Republican women all over the country who have re-registered as Democrats or independents because they perceive a party dominated by religious extremists as no longer representing their interests. Others remain registered Republican but privately confide to one another that they're ashamed to admit it to others.
Even many Republican women candidates themselves shy away from too close an association with the party. During the Washington mayor's race, Republican nominee Carol Schwartz was quoted in the New York Times as saying she considered herself "a Republican in name only." The article went on to characterize Schwartz as a fiscal conservative and strong supporter of tough crime control who nevertheless favors abortion rights, gay rights and easier access to drug rehabilitation.
Once, such beliefs would have been seen as exemplifying the true Republican principles of individual liberty and personal responsibility. By today's Republican standards, they're considered radical and liberal.
Continued acceptance of an anti-abortion platform, along with other religious-right doctrines that repudiate the essential tenets of Republicanism, will doom the national party to the same situation the Democrats found themselves in from the McGovern years until 1992, or worse, to a slow and painful demise. In future years, political historians may view the religious right as a Trojan horse that the Republican Party initially welcomed with open arms, only to see itself destroyed as that minority cost Republicans national elections by driving away mainstream voters.
The ranks of women voters turned off by the present Republican Party transcends any one social or economic group. A recent Times Mirror study revealed that the middle of the national political spectrum is now dominated by a largely female swing vote. Terming this group "new economy independents," the study reported that this segment is composed of almost one-fifth of all voters and is not anchored in either party.
These women's conflicting political values make them a potential source of votes for either party. At the same time that they associate themselves with fundamental religious beliefs, favor mandatory sentencing for violent criminals and dislike government regulation, they are also pro-choice and highly tolerant of homosexuality. Because many are financially pressured single mothers, their priorities differ in crucial ways from those of men in the same socioeconomic group. For example, they solidly support government spending on job-training programs.
The male Republican movers and shakers haven't bothered to take these women into account and are likely to continue to overlook them in 1996, an oversight that will very likely cost them the presidency. But it's still not too late for them to wake up and start reaching out to other potential Republican constituencies.
But I'm not holding my breath. Chances are, come November, 1996, when I and other women arrive at the voting booth, we will once again find ourselves looking at the top of the ballot--and reluctantly pulling the Democratic lever.