By Barbara A. Perry, co-editor of 42: Inside the Presidency of Bill Clinton
Via Twitter, a CUP follower posed the question to me of why Republican women would vote for Secretary Clinton this November in one of the most consequential presidential elections in recent memory. The glib response would be, “For the same reason some GOP men are casting their ballots for the Democratic nominee.” In fact, fifty senior Republican foreign policy advisers (predominantly men) released a letter last week outlining why they will not vote for Donald Trump. Some will support Secretary Clinton, while others are choosing to skip the presidential election altogether. John B. Bellinger III, legal adviser to Condoleezza Rice at the Bush 43 National Security Council and the State Department, drafted the letter, focusing on Trump’s lack of fitness for the presidency, rather than on his policies. Bellinger and his colleagues cited the following deficiencies in the reality TV star’s temperament: “[Trump] is unable or unwilling to separate truth from falsehood. He does not encourage conflicting views. He lacks self-control and acts impetuously. He cannot tolerate personal criticism. He has alarmed our closest allies with his erratic behavior. All of these are dangerous qualities in an individual who aspires to be president and commander in chief, with command of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.”
Some Americans, 7 percent of those polled, respond that they would not vote for a qualified woman for president.
As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is fond of observing when asked if male and female judges decide cases differently, “A wise old man and a wise old woman will reach the same conclusion.” But our Twitter follower seems to want to know if GOP women will have particular reasons for voting for Hillary Clinton that relate to gender and partisanship. Here are five reasons that come to mind:
- Women may be attracted to Hillary’s candidacy to counter the antifemale side of the gender equation. Some Americans, 7 percent of those polled, respond that they would not vote for a qualified woman for president. But some women, Democrats and Republicans alike, particularly older voters, want to witness the historic first of a woman taking the presidential oath of office on January 20, 2017.
In a related reason, the United States has a long history of trying to make our government representative of the electorate on the basis of religion, race, ethnicity, and gender. Starting in the nineteenth century, presidents appointed Catholic Supreme Court justices to reflect the growing of numbers of their coreligionists in the population. The twentieth century experienced the same phenomenon for Jewish justices. LBJ named the first African American member of the Supreme Court in 1967, and Ronald Reagan made good on his 1980 campaign promise to name the first female to the tribunal when he nominated O’Connor the next year. Obama followed suit in naming the first Latina justice in 2009’s nomination of Sonia Sotomayor. Undoubtedly, some women believe it is time for the presidency to reflect over half of the American populace.
- Some of the Republican women who have voiced their opposition to Trump and openness to voting for Clinton hail from the more moderate Bush 41 wing of the GOP. Jeb Bush’s top aide Sally Bradshaw announced that she is leaving the Republican Party, until it regains its sanity, and will vote for Hillary if the race is close in her home state of Florida. Republican women leaders have a proud heritage of courageous public service, from incumbent Maine Senator Susan Collins to her predecessor Senator Margaret Chase Smith to the first female to hold federal office, U.S. Representative Jeannette Rankin of Montana, elected to Congress in 1916. It is not surprising that the distaff side of the Republican party is not averse to speaking out against its nominee.
- Some Republican woman voters will be attracted to Clinton’s candidacy because of her long record of support for child welfare, women’s rights at home and abroad, health care, and education. These issues are typically viewed as “soft” policies of interest to females. Yet Secretary Clinton’s more hawkish foreign policy could be especially attractive to conservative women.
- Rounding out these rationales for why GOP women may vote for Hillary is the misogynistic, racist demagoguery and religious bigotry of the Republican nominee. Unlike many male Republican leaders who castigate Trump for these views but refuse to repudiate his candidacy, as Khizr Khan has encouraged them to do, prominent women in GOP circles have not exhibited such reluctance. Sally Bradshaw concluded that Republicans “have nominated a total narcissist—a misogynist—a bigot. This is a time when country has to take priority over political parties. Donald Trump cannot be elected president.”
Reasons not only why some Republican woman are abandoning their party, at least for this election cycle, but why Donald Trump has experienced an August swoon in the polls.
Dr. Barbara A. Perry is White Burkett Miller Professor of Ethics and Institutions at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, where she is Director of Presidential Studies. For an overview of Mrs. Clinton’s precedent-setting tenure as First Lady, see Perry’s chapter in 42: Inside the Presidency of Bill Clinton. Follow her on Twitter @BarbaraPerryUVA.