Jacques: Can GOP women seize the moment?

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

In case you haven’t heard, the future is female.

Last weekend, women all over the country (and world) celebrated the one-year anniversary of the Women’s March. In this state, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer helped lead the Lansing event.

While you could ask 100 women why they protest and get as many answers, the movement’s leaders are trying to turn the energy of the marches into action. The events this month had the theme “Power to the Polls.”

This crusade, which claims to be inclusive of everyone, has left out a large contingent of women — conservatives, who dare think differently from what liberal ladies deem acceptable.

How do right-leaning women, who were instrumental in electing Donald Trump president, harness their own momentum? Can they?

“Republican women are cut very different than liberals,” says Linda Lee Tarver, president of the Republican Women’s Federation of Michigan, which helps encourage GOP women to run for office. “We aren’t wearing our pink p---- hats. We do our marching at the ballot — that’s where our enthusiasm is.”

The Women’s March deserves credit for bringing so many women together. And the abhorrence of President Trump also helped spur the #MeToo movement, which has toppled powerful men left and right for alleged sexual misdeeds.

In many cases, especially in the political realm, women are replacing them. And Democratic women are seizing the moment.

In Michigan, a female triumvirate is looking to storm the 2018 ballot, with Whitmer, Jocelyn Benson for secretary of state and Dana Nessel for attorney general.

In a campaign ad, Nessel doesn’t shy away from playing the woman card: “We need more women in positions of power, not less. Who can you trust not to show you their penis in a professional setting? Is it the candidate who doesn’t have a penis? I’d say so.”

There you have it.

And the strategy appears to be working. A poll this week from The Detroit News and WDIV-TV shows Whitmer leading Attorney General Bill Schuette (the top GOP contender for governor) by 7 points, even though less than 28 percent of voters are familiar with her.

“I think the undercurrent there, more than anything, is that this may be a moment for female candidates,” pollster Richard Czuba told The News.

More women should get their names on the ballot. Less than 20 percent of Congress is composed of women, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. Of the 106 women in 2018, only 27 are Republicans. In Michigan’s Legislature, just 25 percent are women — in line with national averages.

Women on the left are getting a lot of support, with many organizations ready to help fund their campaigns. That includes Emily’s List, which exists to elect Democratic, pro-choice women.

For Republicans, it’s a different story. Most of the organizing is done at the grassroots level, although there are a few national groups like Maggie’s List.

“The list is really short on our side,” says Dawn Crandall, who heads the Michigan Excellence in Public Service Series, which trains conservative women on how to get involved with politics.

It’s a seven-month program and helps prepare women to run for office. A good percentage of the program’s graduates get elected, and there are 14 women in the current class. But while Crandall advocates for getting more women in office, her priority is making sure the best candidates get elected. Issues trump sex — a defining difference between Democratic and Republican women.

“I don’t think you elect a woman just to elect a woman,” Crandall says.

Yet she proudly points to women in leadership roles, including Livonia state Rep. Laura Cox, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, and Ronna Romney McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee.

“On the GOP side, glass ceilings are being shattered,” Crandall says.