Following more than a year of being accused of waging a "war on women" through their chosen policies, conservatives have spent the past few weeks desperately trying to turn the narrative around on Democrats. Pointing to recent scandals involving a handful of Democratic politicians' abhorrent behavior towards women, conservatives are claiming the Democratic Party is waging the true "war on women." But the comparison is faulty.
While some Democrats have recently been accused of having engaged in alarming -- and in one case, allegedly criminal -- behavior towards women, the GOP "war on women" reflected a major legislative effort on behalf of the party.
Though the GOP's attempted narrative reversal has been dismissed as illogical by numerous political commentators, Fox News has been doing its best to help the GOP push the message.
On July 26, BuzzFeed political editor McKay Coppins reported that the Republican Party had been using "public memos, tweets, and op-eds" in an attempt to flip the "war on women" narrative on Democrats by pointing to recent scandals involving San Diego Mayor Bob Filner (who is accused of having engaged in a heinous pattern of abuse and harassment of female colleagues), NYC mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner, and NYC comptroller candidate Eliot Spitzer.
RNC officials reportedly indicated to Coppins that the entire strategy was to "make the 'war on women' narrative boomerang by pointing out the failure of Democratic party leaders to call out bad behavior within their own ranks."
Following the GOP marching orders, Fox News has been eager to get the message out, featuring numerous segments about Democrats' supposed "war on women."
Hours after Coppins published his report, Laura Ingraham, guest-hosting The O'Reilly Factor, labeled Anthony Weiner's behavior "the true war on women." Following the GOP script, Ingraham pondered why Democratic politicians were supposedly "looking the other way."
Eric Bolling, handily summarizing the GOP's transparent strategy on the issue, argued on The Five that Democrats were "going to have to back off the war on the women talking points because of the Democratic war on women."
Fox's attempts to bolster the GOP's "war on women" counterattack continued on Fox & Friends this morning, featuring on-screen text hitting all of the GOP's messaging points:
Hannity has touched on this supposed new "war on women" on at least two episodes since July 26, and the issue has also been discussed on America Live, the network's media criticism show Fox News Watch, and Special Report with Bret Baier.
But the recent attempts from the GOP and their allies at Fox to defuse attacks on the Republican Party for waging a "war on women" downplays the substance of that critique. As Steve Benen explained at MSNBC.com, when progressives and Democratic politicians accused the GOP of waging a "war on women," it was "less about Republican misdeeds towards specific individuals and more about a systemic issue of GOP policymakers pursuing a radical agenda that affects all American women." (Benen also pointed out that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has condemned Filner and Weiner. DNC chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz called on Filner to resign on July 26.)
Writing in The Washington Post, Katrina vanden Heuvel argues that the Republican spin on the "war on women" is "silly, and they know it." Vanden Heuvel explains "sexual indiscretion and sexual harassment (two types of scandal that shouldn't be conflated) know no partisan affiliation," and that while harassment is a serious issue impacting women across America, "fixing it is going to take more than politically-motivated crocodile tears from the Grand Old Party."
She continues, explaining that the original war on women narrative emerged from the GOP's "disdain for the needs of actual women":
Instead, women need a commitment to public policy that protects us from discrimination and harassment and supports and respects our ability to run our own lives. The reason Republicans are now trying to flip the "war on women" script is that they have no such commitment.
To the contrary, the GOP has shown nothing but disdain for the real needs of actual women. Consider what the party stands for: Allowing bosses and insurance companies to discriminate against women; forcing raped women to carry their rapist's fetus; requiring insurance coverage for Viagra but not for the pill; defunding Planned Parenthood, Head Start, childcare, and services for domestic abuse victims; conscripting doctors to violate women with medically unnecessary (and thus punitive) procedures; and redefining rape so more rapists walk free. That's an awful agenda, and women know it.
In a similar vein, The Atlantic's Garance Franke-Ruta predicts that the GOP's attempt to flip the argument won't succeed as a campaign message for the party "because it's not a real prescription to reach women, and it doesn't involve anyone who's even going to be on a ballot that fall." According to Franke-Ruta, "Adopting the Democratic 'War on Women' messaging and trying to flip it won't work, because that was an argument about Republican policies on women -- women as a group -- rather than about reprehensible individual behavior."
Despite the fundamental flaws in the GOP's argument, Fox seems committed to riding it out through the summer.
In addition to trying to help the GOP politically, the network has another motivation to try to turn the "war on women" narrative around: its employees have for years endorsed the type of policies that gave rise to it in the first place.