Michele Bachmann’s decision last week to leave Congress at the end of this term silences the Republican’s best-known female voice on the national political stage.
It’s not a secret that her undisciplined style made her unpopular with the party’s leadership. But with women making up just 8 percent of the Republican majority in the House, Bachmann’s Tea Party populism, her run for the White House and her wide-eyed, often inaccurate claims, still made her a GOP stand out.
At the moment, the best-known Republican woman at the national level has never run for office – that’s former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Meanwhile, Bachmann’s fellow Tea Party Republican, Sarah Palin, the charged, vocal former Alaska governor and vice presidential nominee, has moved away from politics.
Politically moderate Republican women are invisible to absent.
Former senators Kay Bailey Hutchinson and Olympia Snowe have left the political scene in Washington where only four of 20 women in the senate are Republicans.
And any pro-choice women has little chance of gaining support in the party because of the party’s unwavering stand on that polarizing issue
Other than Rice, the leading women on the Republican side are state politicians, specifically the four women governors: Jan Brewer of Arizona; Mary Fallin of Oklahoma; Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Susana Martinez of New Mexico.
Female Republican influence in Washington is currently limited to the fringes of leadership.
In the Senate the two Republican women with some sway are Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Deb Fisher of Nebraska.
In the House the women with the most power are Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, the conference chair, and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.
Yet, all four are practically unknown outside of Capitol Hill.
“What we’ve been watching over time is a kind of flat lining for elected women overall, but a large part of it is… [there’s] no growth to loss on the Republican side,” Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for Women and Politics at Rutgers University said late last year in an assessment that remains on target.
“There is a real challenge for the Republican Party if they want to be seen as a party that is inclusive and has women’s representation in it.”
In fact, Republicans are putting fewer women in office even as more American women decide to enter public life. And in comparison to Democrats, fewer Republican women are seeking election.
In 2012 election, 190 women Democrats ran for Congress. But only 109 Republican women were on the ballot for Congress.
The shortage of female leaders among Republicans has major political implications for the future of the party.
According to a Fox News poll of voters exiting from the 2012 elections the majority, 53 percent, were women. And women voted for President Obama (55 percent) over Mitt Romney, the GOP nominee (44 percent).
Polls consistently show women who vote Republican are older, white, and married.
Younger women, including younger, white women, lean to the Democrats. That is particularly true of younger, single women and women with college degrees.
Since 1982 women have earned 9.7 million more college degrees than men, according to the Department of Education.
The American Enterprise Institute recently reported that in 2012 women claimed 61 percent of all associates degrees and 56 percent of all bachelor’s degrees, close to 60 percent of all master’s degrees and almost 52 percent of all the doctorates.
“Overall there were 141 women graduating with a college degree at some level in 2012 for every 100 men,” according to AEI.
Every past predictor of the political behavior of these educated, employed women is that they are Democrats.
The absence of leading Republican female voices in national politics only makes the party’s problem with those women worse. It is not a caricature but a fact that the GOP has become a party of white men.
In 1960 only 11 percent of American households saw women bringing in the majority of the income.
Last week a Pew Research Center polling showing that in 40 percent of American households women are the primary breadwinners.
Those working women also skew to the politics of Democrats. That is also true of minority women who are a growing share of the national electorate.
The party’s hard line stand against abortion rights and recent incidents of GOP candidates discussing “legitimate” rapes and opposing birth control as a required part of employee health care plans is also playing into the Democrat’s charge that Republicans are waging a “war on Women.” Romney’s pledge to “end Planned Parenthood” did not help.
The Republican State Leadership Committee has a new initiative to support 150 women for local and state campaigns. The Republican National Committee might want to launch a similar effort.
As Republicans look for a leader to help them navigate the new American electorate they may find the best man for the job is a woman. But they have to find her – a conservative, American version of Margaret Thatcher.