Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee must have missed the memo.
Last month, national Republican officials and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) began offering lawmakers sensitivity training and tips on how to avoid Todd Akin-style gaffes in dealing with female opponents or female constituents.
“Some of our members just aren’t as sensitive as they ought to be,” Boehner told Politico.
Huckabee, of course, never served in Congress. But the 2008 Republican presidential candidate and media commentator still might have absorbed a lesson or two from his GOP brethren on Capitol Hill.
Instead, he plunged into the controversy over whether the Republican Party has declared a “war on women” with a tirade against Democratic exploitation of the issue that sounded, well, disrespectful and condescending to women.
In a stem-winder at the Republican National Committee’s meeting in Washington on Thursday, Huckabee blasted Democrats who, he claimed, “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,” he lectured. “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.”
But there was more:
“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 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 declared.
Uncle Sugar? Libido? Reproductive system? Where was this speech going?
Huckabee, a former preacher, was referring to the provision of Obamacare that requires most employers to cover the full range of contraception in their health insurance plans. Many Republicans argue that employers should be allowed to refuse to provide such coverage on moral or religious grounds.
The issue worked its way to the Supreme Court late last month in a case brought by the Little Sisters of the Poor. So feelings run high around this issue, and the rhetoric is getting more heated and nasty.
As they prepare for the 2014 mid-term elections and beyond, however, Republican leaders are trying to avoid a repeat of the 2012 debacle, when former Republican House member Akin used the phrase “legitimate rape” during the Missouri Senate race. Akin said he opposed abortion — even in cases of rape or incest — because it was “rare” for a rape victim to become pregnant.
Akin’s bone-headed comments ultimately cost him the election and touched off Democratic charges of a GOP “War on Women.” Republicans desperately want to avoid that mistake again. There are at least 10 races where House GOP male incumbents face Democratic women challengers, according to Politico.
Huckabee told GOP leaders on Thursday that women are "outraged" when Democrats paint them as nothing but "victims of their gender." It’s possible, of course, that the well-spoken Huckabee got carried away with his own rhetorical flourishes in trying to turn the “war on women” back on the Democrats.
Yet Huckabee had made similar comments on his radio show Sunday, according to The Huffington Post. "It doesn't help that some of the supposed rock stars of Republican consulting tell candidates not to even discuss issues like the sanctity of life for fear of offending women voters," he said.
There’s some speculation that Huckabee, a favorite with the Tea Party and Evangelical Christians, might make another run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. If so, then he may have simply been tossing more red meat to his base.
Whatever the motivation, within minutes his remarks were replayed on cable TV and the Internet, and Huckabee was back in the limelight – at least for one 24-hour news cycle.
Women voters have been integral to the rise of Democrats in key states and, since 2008, nationally, notes the Los Angeles Times. In 2012, men sided with Republican Mitt Romney, 52 percent to 45 percent. Women backed President Obama, 55 percent to 44 percent. 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 post-election 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. Yesterday’s speech by Huckabee may prove to be a setback in that effort.
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