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Opinion: Moms, Guns and 2018

GOP’s issues with women have nothing to do with Stormy, #MeToo or Russia

Crosses line the lawn in front of Santa Fe High School on Monday in Santa Fe, Texas, where a 17-year-old student opened fire with a shotgun and pistol, killing 10 people. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Crosses line the lawn in front of Santa Fe High School on Monday in Santa Fe, Texas, where a 17-year-old student opened fire with a shotgun and pistol, killing 10 people. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Women are coming for you, Republicans. That’s the message of 2018 so far, isn’t it? Between the record number of women running for office (mostly as Democrats), the record number of women winning primaries, and the enormous gender gap that shows up in polling everything from the president’s approval rating to generic House races, there’s a theme showing up — Republicans have a problem with women.

And they do. But from the conversations I’ve had with suburban women voters, and especially the mothers of young children I see every day as the mom of 5-year-olds myself, there’s much more to the story of the GOP’s trouble with women, and it has nothing to do with Stormy Daniels, #MeToo, Russia or the Resistance.

The problem is the feeling mothers have all day, every day, when they watch their children step through the doors of their school at drop-off or onto the school bus, if that’s how they leave in the morning. The feeling is something between awareness and anxiety. It lasts seven hours or maybe eight, 10 if it’s a long day, until their kids are home again. It comes with dark thoughts, usually in the back of their minds. Some days, with breaking news banners, the feeling is a split second of panic.

Could it happen?

“Are they safe? Is today the day? Please don’t let today be the day. Please let never be the day.” The feeling has moms keeping their phones charged, just in case. “It could never happen here, could it? Will it? Are they safe?”

It’s having 5-year-olds and knowing that turning 6 means it can happen, because it did happen, at Sandy Hook. Six is the youngest it could happen, isn’t it? It’s wishing their kids never have to experience a “live shooter drill,” but praying they’ll know what to do if they need to. That’s the feeling moms in America have every day. It’s not political and it’s not even partisan, but it is real and it’s the foundation that millions of women have as they process the midterm campaign season this year.

With every school shooting that has happened recently, and then faded into the pile of the ones before it, Washington has seemed more and more resigned that nothing can be done to stop the next one. Doing something before the midterms? Don’t be crazy.

But the feeling outside of D.C. is, in fact, the opposite — that something must be done to stop the next one, and it should have happened already. No action before the midterms? Do you know how many school days most kids have between now and Nov. 6? At least 50. That’s 50 drop-offs, 50 days of hoping this isn’t the day, 50 days for women to ask how to solve this terrible problem and why nobody’s trying.

ICYMI: Thousands March on Washington to Protest Inaction on Gun Violence

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I talked to Leslie Sanchez, a Republican strategist I’ve always admired for her insights into female GOP voters, and asked her how she thinks party leaders are doing when it comes to addressing Republican women’s concerns on the issue. Not well, it turns out.

“They’re lost in the woods,” she said. “They’re completely tone-deaf.”

Republican female voters are at a “boiling point” when it comes to demanding reform to protect children in schools, she added.

“But it’s dated thinking to assume Republican suburban women won’t be a driving force for reform on this issue,” she said.

Republicans and Democrats are all seeing the same polling that shows a large majority of women — 66 percent — saying gun safety will play a key role in their vote this fall. A Marist poll, which was taken just after the Parkland, Florida, shooting earlier this year, showed 72 percent of women in small cities or suburbs saying they would support a candidate who backed a ban on assault weapons. Those numbers are new and different.

“What jumps out in the findings is that there is not only widespread support for gun reform,” said Dr. Lee M. Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. “But it has become a voting issue for gun reform advocates, especially women.”

It’s the suburban districts that are R+1, +2 or +3, where a candidate’s record on the issue will make a difference in the race. Look at Rep. Mike Coffman in Colorado or Rep. Barbara Comstock in Virginia to see opponents digging into this in a way that shows they understand that.

In trouble with women

The inability of GOP leaders to tell mothers that they’re ready to try something, anything, to keep their kids safe in their schools is, in my interviews, the reason many Republican incumbents are in trouble with female voters this year. These women don’t necessarily have a bill they’re pushing for or a side of the debate they’re wedded to. Is it stricter gun laws or mental health reform? Is it bump stocks or school safety? It’s probably a combination of many solutions, since these women are sophisticated enough to know that the danger is a combination of many factors, too.

But you have to wonder what kind of a world we’re leaving for our kids when a teenage girl, who was inside the Santa Fe, Texas, high school during last week’s shooting, was asked if it felt surreal to see a mass shooting at her small-town school and she said no.

“It’s been happening everywhere,” she said. “I’ve always kind of felt like eventually it was going to happen here, too.”

Moms in America want somebody in Washington to show as much bravery in basic legislating as mothers and their children have to show every day just to go through the doors of their schools. It’s not a lot to ask. 

Roll Call columnist Patricia Murphy covers national politics for The Daily Beast. Previously, she was the Capitol Hill bureau chief for Politics Daily and founder and editor of Citizen Jane Politics. Follow her on Twitter @1PatriciaMurphy.

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