The so-called Republican "war on women" was never really a thing — and now it's not even a thing that works.
It's hard to pinpoint when the canard started (sometime around 2010) — but its maiden voyage might have begun in earnest the night of February 7, 2012, during a debate in New Hampshire, when, apropos of nothing, moderator George Stephanopoulos asked the Republican candidates a complete non sequitur: Should states have the right to ban contraception? Some later speculated that Stephanopoulos might have been helping Obama concoct that narrative. Whether or not this was coordinated, he certainly seems to have contributed.
The term was subsequently used as an attack on anyone who supported restrictions on abortion, or thought it inappropriate for taxpayers or employers who believe it violates their rights of conscience to be required to pay for someone else's birth control. And, for a while, the allegation seemed to have a real impact, helping defeat Republican men like 2010 Republican Senate candidate Ken Buck, who was painted as a "sexist." Other Republicans seemed to invite these attacks by talking about things such as "legitimate rape."
It continued into 2012. Who could forget how gaffes like "binders full of women" plagued Mitt Romney? Or, consider this from 2013. In a Washington Post survey that came out just before the narrowly-decided gubernatorial election in Virginia last year, the Republican candidate was actually winning the male vote, but trailing among women "by 24 points — 58 percent to 34 percent."
Having used the smear effectively in no less than three election cycles, Democrats went to the well one too many times in 2014, hoping the line could overcome the toxic political environment and save them from what happened last night. It didn't.
Over-reliance on the issue was transparently an act of desperation, and became easy to parody. When Ken Buck and Cory Gardner switched places (Buck was easily elected to the House last night, and Gardner will be Colorado's next senator), Democratic Sen. Mark Udall picked on the wrong cowboy. As The Washington Post noted,
Colorado Democratic Sen. Mark Udall has talked about contraception and abortion more than just about any other 2014 candidate. Roughly half of his ads are about women's issues. The focus has been so intense that Udall has been nicknamed "Mark Uterus," with local reporter Lynn Bartels of the Denver Post joking that if the race were a movie, it would be set in a gynecologist's office. In a debate between Udall and Rep. Cory Gardner last week, Bartels, who moderated, used the moniker to describe him. [The Washington Post]
There's a danger in running obviously false ads. Gardner actually campaigned for over the counter birth control, but that didn't stop NARAL from saying he wanted to ban condoms. This is silly, easy to mock.
The war on women meme was always a farce to begin with. Republicans are moms, sisters, and wives. The attack rings especially hollow in a year when Republicans have elected so many firsts. West Virginia Rep. Shelley Moore Capito and Iowa's Joni Ernst, for example, will both become the first female senators ever elected from their respective states. New York's Elise Stefanik last night became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. And Utah's Mia Love became the first Haitian-American member of Congress. I could go on...
But while these Republican women were winning, there is an extra bit of irony:
Women's health activist Sandra Fluke lost her bid for a seat in the California State Senate.
Fluke, a Democrat who rose to prominence after conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh called her a "slut" for asking that religious institutions cover birth control and abortions, lost to Democrat Ben Allen in California’s 26th district. [Politico]
There's a phenomenon in sports whereby you lose your psychological edge and nobody is afraid of you any more.
That seems to be what has happened here. If you're looking for a date to mark the demise of the war on women, November 4, 2014, seems like a pretty good one.