Republican women are pushing back against their ‘bad reputation’

By Ese Olumhense in Washington, D.C.

At the gathering of the National Federation of Republican Women (NFRW) in Alexandria, Virginia on the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration, hundreds of women mingling over champagne, cupcakes, and crudite shared their hopes for working toward a more united America—and detailed the difficulties they’d experienced as Trump supporters.

National Federation of Republican Women President Carrie Almond poses at the group’s town hall event in Alexandria, Virginia on January 19, 2017. (Ese Olumhense/Tribune Media)

“Women are deliberate peacemakers,” said NFRW President Carrie Almond. “Women are the ones that bring everyone to the table.” Almond, who had traveled the country campaigning for Trump, says she had shaken over 300,000 hands across the country since Mother’s Day. Regardless of their political affiliation, she says, the women she met shared similar experiences, as mothers, wives, and friends. These bonds, she says, make them natural problem-solvers.

The hundreds who attended NFRW’s open house Thursday were mostly from different Republican women’s clubs across the country. Many expressed eagerness to begin working to unify the country under Trump, but acknowledged that convincing Democrats to see their side was hard.

“Republican women get a bad reputation,” said NFRW Vice President Kim Reem. The Iowa native said that women’s issues have become so politicized that it’s difficult to launch a dialogue.

Even within the organization of the Women’s March on Washington, differences surrounding issues—notably reproductive rights—caused tensions. The week leading up to the march, the New Wave Feminists (NWF), a pro-life feminist group from Texas, was listed as a partner organization, but was quickly dropped when their pro-life agenda spread on social media. The group still marched on Saturday, as many members are staunchly anti-Trump, but they were disappointed to be excluded over one issue.

“We believe in what they’re doing,” said Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, one of NWF’s organizers. “Its horrifying to me that in 2017 we can have a predator running the country. We really thought we would be a good fit, just adding a different perspective.”

Trump’s White House even alluded to this on Sunday, noting in its statement on the massive march that pro-life groups had their partnerships revoked, and said that it’s a “shame” that the upcoming March for Life in Washington will likely not receive as much media attention as Saturday’s event.

Starting such tough conversations about differences will be major hurdle, Herndon-De La Rosa agrees, particularly when it doesn’t appear that the other side is willing to listen. Data supports this: 43 percent of Republicans, according to the Pew Research Center, expressed “very unfavorable opinions” of the Democratic Party, and 38 percent of Democrats felt the same way about members of the GOP.

A demonstrator wearing underwear with the word “feminist” written on it watches the crowd at the Women’s March on Washington on January 21, 2017. (Ese Olumhense/Tribune Media)

Yet an overwhelming amount of women from both parties who were in Washington this weekend do see themselves as “deliberate peacemakers,” and expressed willingness to begin the difficult work in the months and years ahead.

“Can we find common ground? Can we walk that common path together?” asked Marisa Leto, a liberal, who traveled to the Women’s March from the Bay Area. “I know somewhere there is common ground. We’re all women, we’re all taking care of somebody. We’re all f–king superhuman.”

Almond, who has worked on a number of legislative campaigns, cautions against seeing any issues solely as women’s issues.

“Every issue is a women’s issue,” she says. “No single issue became more apparent to me than the other. It’s the personal. People like to put women in the same basket. Well, they do not belong in the same basket. There are as many people concerned about the economy, as they are about jobs, or about every single thing that concerns them.”

“There is no woman thing,” said Sharon Jackson, a Republican from Alaska. “[Trump] has given women opportunities they would have never seen. He ran Miss America! You can’t do that not liking women.”

Some of these concerns, especially health care, are pressing. At Saturday’s march, an attendee who asked not to be named detailed her experience as a pregnant woman afraid of losing her insurance, which she secured through the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Repealing the Act, as Republicans have promised to do, would leave her “without options.”

But Republican women at NFRW’s open house called this “false fear,” and are confident that the GOP wouldn’t repeal the ACA without a replacement. And some argued Trump and the GOP are not at all motivated by misogyny.

“There is no woman thing,” said Sharon Jackson, a Republican from Alaska. “[Trump] has given women opportunities they would have never seen. He ran Miss America! You can’t do that not liking women.”

Jackson did acknowledge that many of Saturday’s marchers were coming to Washington because they were upset by Trump’s statements during the campaign. She respects their choice, she says, and is hopeful that both sides will become more united under the new administration. “We just want what’s best for everyone,” she said.

Reem, who was considering attending Saturday’s march to serve hot chocolate to demonstrators she vastly disagrees with, agreed with that sentiment.

“I admire their courage,” she said. “The pendulum swings both ways. If they didn’t have the opportunity to express themselves, neither would I.”