The members of the Republican National Committee gathered in Washington this week. On Thursday, Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and former presidential candidate, was the featured speaker. “The Democrats,” Huckabee declared, “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.”
The creepy, condescending-uncle image, the retrograde attitude toward sex: Huckabee managed to illustrate exactly the phenomenon he was trying to decry, the perception that Republicans don’t know how to talk to or about women. Democrats were gleeful. Within hours, liberal groups had bombarded reporters with outraged statements, the White House press secretary had called the remark “offensive,” and MSNBC was playing the clip over and over (chyron: “HUCKED UP”). “If this is the GOP rebrand a year later, then all they’ve gotten is a year older,” gloated the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
The “rebrand” Wasserman Schultz referenced was undertaken when Republicans, smarting from the loss of the presidential election, embarked on a course of soul-searching. A report commissioned by the RNC, the Growth and Opportunity Project, would soon deliver the bitter verdict that the party was widely viewed as a bunch of “stuffy old men,” and that major changes in orientation, rhetoric, and tactics would be needed if the GOP ever wanted to win another presidential election. (Sample: “There is growing unrest within the community of Republican women frustrated by the Party’s negative image among women .... Our candidates, spokespeople and staff need to use language that addresses concerns that are on women’s minds in order to let them know we are fighting for them.”)