There’s a new ad splashing across national TV and the internet this week in the Republican crusade to curry female support. The spot features a woman complaining about her relationship to the camera. Her beau spies on her text messages, meddles in her healthcare, and tanks their bank account. “I know I’m stuck with Barack for two more years. I get that,” she says, eyes a little moist, “but I’m not stuck with his friends.”
John Jordan of Americans for Shared Prosperity commissioned an ad to “treat women voters more like adults than either the Democrats or Republicans have,” he told Politico. Despite Jordan’s claims of novelty, the ad is eerily similar to one released by the Republican National Committee in 2012. In this version, the girlfriend breaks up with a cardboard Obama cutout, who had been spending too much time on the golf course and with celebrities. (“You think I didn’t see you with Sarah Jessica Parker and George Clooney?”) Same irresponsible boyfriend Barack, different girlfriend.
Since then, the politics-as-dating framework has been a favorite among Republicans campaigning for the young, female vote. Earlier this year, the College Republican National Committee rolled out test ads for young and female voters after a year and a half of research. The spots, which aired in Virginia and Michigan, were modeled after the dating reality shows “Catfish” and “The Bachelorette.” The Democratic candidates are all lousy boyfriends—liars, financially irresponsible, and snoopy. In the “Bachelorette” parody, the Democratic suitor failed to pay for a date after maxing out all of his credit cards, then frantically threw the bill at a passing child. Get it?
These ads are the byproducts of a Republican Party that is increasingly paranoid about its position with young women—and more specifically, a post-2012 autopsy aimed at improving its brand with women. That year, two-thirds of single women voters cast their ballots for President Obama.
But the ads just underline how out of touch Republicans are. Far from treating female voters as adults, the ads infantilize women, pink-washing politics into the framework of traditional, hetero-normative relationships. Instead of a president, women are presented with a boyfriend. Rather than a political candidate, it’s a suitor. There are tears, because women are emotional.
What fails to come across in any of these ads is the political issues that matter to women: the economy, national security, equal pay, health care, or the environment, for example. Instead, the ads remind women of the limited roles the GOP sees them playing: dependent girlfriends who want their boyfriends to care for them, financially and emotionally. As a Republican might put it, this strategy isn't likely to help the party get lucky.