Former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee lobbed a grenade — a big one — Thursday into the rumbling dispute about whether the Republican party has declared a "war on women."
Speaking at the Republican National Committee's meeting in Washington, the former Arkansas governor and Fox commentator teed off on Democrats who, he said, "think that women are nothing more than helpless and hopeless creatures whose only goal in life is to have the government provide for them birth control medication. Women I know are smart, educated, intelligent, capable of doing anything anyone else can do. Our party stands for the recognition of the equality of women and the capacity of women — that's not a war on them, that's a war for them."
Had he stopped there, his characterization of one facet of Obamacare might have attracted only middling notice. But he didn't stop there.
"And if the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it — let us take that discussion all across America," he said.
Within minutes, as his remarks were replayed on cable and the Web, that was exactly where the conversation seemed headed.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney denounced the comment, saying that "I haven't seen that report, but whoever said it sounds offensive to me and to women."
Certainly, the target audience of women who might find his comments offensive is large. According to national health statistics, almost all sexually active women have used one contraceptive method. And 4 in 5 have used birth control pills.
Huckabee's remark was certain to resurrect the very thing he was inveighing against — the notion fanned by Democrats that Republicans were engaged in a "war on women" by virtue of their policies and statements. Not the least of them occurred in 2012 when Todd Akin, a candidate for the U.S. Senate in Missouri, declared that he opposed abortion even in cases of rape or incest because it was "rare" for a rape victim to become pregnant.
"If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down," he said at the time. "But let's assume that maybe that didn't work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child." Akin later apologized and said he had used the "wrong words."
Women have been integral to the rise of Democrats in key states and, since 2008, nationally. In 2012, men sided with Republican Mitt Romney, 52% to 45%. Women sided with President Obama, 55% to 44%. Unmarried women, those more likely to be using birth control, provided Obama's largest advantage, with more than two-thirds of them siding with the Democrat.
National Republicans, in a postelection report issued last spring, named women as one of the most important voter groups for the GOP to attract if it wished to succeed in future national elections.
But the report did not advocate any changes in the GOP positions on issues such as birth control, abortion or same-sex marriage, which have turned off many voters.