“Mrs. Clinton—newsflash—I’m a feminist, and I’m not voting for you,” Carly Fiorina declared to the conservative crowd at the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference in Washington, D.C., earlier this month. Her words were met with cheers and applause. As the election draws near, the former Republican presidential candidate is making a feminist case against Hillary Clinton.
The looming presidential election must look bleak for conservative women. Donald Trump, the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee, has a track record of denigrating women, often by criticizing their physical appearance. He is staggeringly unpopular with female voters, and Democrats hope to use his words against him to make sure that doesn’t change. Yet, the alternative is Clinton. The Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee has worked to style herself as an advocate for women and girls. If elected, she would make history as the first woman president. But she is still a Democrat advocating a liberal agenda.
So Fiorina is taking one of the only approaches that might be tolerable for conservative women: She is making a plea to women not to vote for Clinton without actively making a case for Trump. The argument embodies a dilemma for conservative women. They may care about the election. They may care about equal rights. But the man who is supposed to be their party’s standard-bearer may be totally at odds with the way they view conservatism, let alone feminism. What do they do? They can follow Fiorina’s lead, and make a forceful, even feminist, argument against Clinton. Yet even if they succeed in convincing other women to reject Clinton, that does not mean they will end up with a candidate they like.