OFF THE GRID

GOP Has Weapon It Won't Use

Mar 4, 09 | 9:03 AM   byMichael Wolff
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The Republican Party is the party of…women. This is, actually, not the least bit of a hyperbolic statement. Carly Fiorina, Meg Whitman and even Sarah Palin are about the most interesting set of powerful political newcomers since…Barack Obama. They are each potential candidates out of the mainstream, with caché, attractiveness, significant constituencies, and time to develop their acts.

The obvious irony is that they find themselves, full of heart and potential, in the party most philosophically predisposed to the temperament, sensibility, and look and feel of white men.

True, with some apparent understanding of the demographic drawbacks of that philosophy and predisposition, the Republicans have recently sought to elevate some less white faces, including Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana governor of Indian descent who fared so poorly as the party’s official riposter to the president, and African-American Michael Steele, the new chairman of the Republican National Committee, who, the other day, didn’t last a round in a dust-up with Rush Limbaugh.

It may be a far greater leap for the Republicans to go for women than ethnics.

The McCain campaign is a pretty great case study in gender mismanagement. Sarah Palin was obviously chosen as a placeholder and was meant to be a symbolic but passive participant in the presidential campaign—she was a woman as purely cynical choice. Instead, she immediately overshadowed the candidate with a startlingly female set of issues and baggage—all of which, curiously, played much better with the base than did John McCain, the man’s man.


(AP Images)


If Sarah Palin became anathema to the party’s moderate businessman-type wing, Whitman, former head of eBay, and Fiorina, former head of Hewlett-Packard, are likely to become anathema to the party’s far-right, extremist man wing. Not least of all because Republican women who run major corporations (Democratic women do not tend to run major corporations) are not too lady-like in a Republican sort of way. Fiorina, on her part, is already tainted by her association with McCain, now back in his old role as bugaboo to the right wing, who’d briefly considered making her vice president. What’s more, Fiorina’s recent diagnosis of breast cancer is a status the right wing, always in deep discomfort about women’s biological issues, is bound to find icky.

Meg Whitman is gearing up to run for governor of California and to build on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s moderate Republican coalition. This, however, will put her at odds with the right-wing Republican base, which doesn’t want to know from moderate coalitions—even one that has succeeded in the nation’s most populous state. (Schwarzenegger being Schwarzenegger, may have to overcome this. But a woman, by definition, can not be Arnold.)

Each of these women, already arguably larger in stature than any of their male counterparts, has 4 years in which to become among the most formidable and compelling figures in the Republican Party—but to what point?

You know those guys aren’t ever gonna let it happen.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com

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