Marilinda Garcia, a congressional candidate running in New Hampshire’s second district, is well on her way to becoming the new darling of the Republican Party. As a woman of Spanish heritage, she is the epitome of what the Republican Party tries (and often fails) to attract. To conservatives, her candidacy is proof that the Republican Party is not anti-woman or alienating to minorities.
However, the perception that the Republicans are a party for wealthy Caucasian men will not vanish with the appearance of a few token female candidates. Trotting out a new star and frantically pointing to them as proof of the party’s inclusivity will not suffice to convince the skeptics. Instead, there has to be a conscious effort made by the party to understand why it is that this perception even exists.
What the Republican Party fails to grasp is that this perception is half the battle. A panel of men talking about issues pertaining specifically to women sends the message that women are either being sidelined or simply do not exist within the party. This is not to say that only women should speak on these issues, but because the party is being slapped with such a negative label, it should be careful not to cater to it by having a more equal representation.
Merely tacking on a panel of women to the end of a conference as large as the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is not the answer. It makes the women sitting on the panel look like an afterthought. The Republican Party has its fair share of intelligent, accomplished women who are active in politics, but they are consistently kept on the peripheral.
While the older generation of conservative women may deny that the GOP has difficulty appealing to the demographic, millennial conservatives are less likely to agree. This new group of conservatives does not view issues in such stark terms. Even though the extremes in the party are the ones that are heard by the public, a large portion of the Republican base understands that people are dynamic and issues are nuanced.
The caustic rhetoric employed by some of the party elites makes it very difficult for millennials, especially millennial women to feel included by the base. The party has become so fixated on terribly rigid standards that it is almost impossible to be a “real conservative” by those guidelines. This quest for ideological purity is making it extremely difficult for the party to grow and appeal to a larger base.
The problem with the Republican Party is not that they are actively waging a war against women, but that they do not understand why people think they are. Until the party realizes that denial alone cannot fix this perception, they will fail to make progress. The Republican Party needs to understand that in this political environment a party divided amongst itself cannot and will not stand. With the coming of age of a new generation comes new ideas and perspectives. Within the conservative millennial base, there exist both pro-life and pro-choice women, women who identify as feminists and those who do not. The party should embrace these diverse opinions and incorporate these women into the party without subjecting them to a stringent litmus test. There has to be a comprehensive, genuine effort to dispel the notion that the GOP is anti-women. But in the meantime, best of luck to Ms. Garcia; her candidacy is certainly a start.