The New York Times recently described Carly Fiorina, the only woman among 17 Republican candidates for president, as the GOP's "weapon against the 'war on women' charge." The Times is right: She’s a Trojan horse. Fiorina, who has surged in the polls since her well-received debate performance, presents herself as a candidate Republican women can get behind—especially as Donald Trump increasingly alienates them. But if she made it to the White House, she would enact a conservative agenda that is bad for women and bad for families.
Fiorina, a former Hewlett-Packard CEO, is a dream come true to the GOP. In her, the party has found an antidote to Hillary Clinton: a conservative woman who scoffs at the very idea of “women’s issues,” and who believes the war on women is nothing more than a false political narrative cooked up by Democrats. She took on Trump in the wake of his sexist attacks on Fox News' Megyn Kelly, a move that served her and her party well: It deflected attention from the candidates’ anti-abortion debate remarks (such as Governor Scott Walker’s refusal to say whether he supports an abortion-ban exception for mothers whose lives are at risk), and did damage to the unwelcome candidate dominating the GOP field.
It’s not surprising that conservatives are embracing Fiorina. In 2012, the GOP lost the unmarried women’s vote by 36 points; in the party’s election post-mortem, strategists recommended that candidates use female spokespeople to better communicate the GOP’s policies. They also advised making a better effort to listen to female voters, to push back against the Democratic “rhetoric against the 'so-called War on Women,'" and to use Women’s History Month to “remind voters of the Republican’s Party historical role in advancing the women’s rights movement.” But as we saw from the recent conservative excoriation of Planned Parenthood—led in part by GOP Senator Joni Ernst and Congresswoman Diane Black—the messengers look (a bit) different but the message is still the same.
Fiorina may be able to unite conservative women by hewing to the party line on social and economic issues, but she’s unlikely to make inroads with low-income women, women of color, young women, and immigrant women. She is in favor of shutting down the government in order to defund Planned Parenthood. She is opposed to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and to the law’s provision that guarantees no-cost coverage of contraception. She opposes raising the minimum wage, mandating paid family leave, and enacting legislation that would close the gender pay gap. Democratic politicians didn’t fabricate these issues to advance their own case. Voters know these issues are the bedrock of their health and economic wellbeing, and the GOP is hoping to convince them otherwise.
But that’s unlikely. One in five women in this country have visited a Planned Parenthood and 99 percent use birth control at some point in their lives. The ACA has extended care to millions of women who once were routinely charged more than men for coverage, had to pay out-of-pocket for preventive services like pap smears and breast exams, and who often couldn’t afford maternity coverage during pregnancy. Polling conducted in New York and Pennsylvania showed that 80 percent of voters believe a woman’s ability to control the timing and size of her family “is an important part of equality for women,” and more than 70 percent believed abortion access is linked to women’s financial stability.
Women know that the current economic system is not working for them or their families, and they want policies to change it. Two-thirds of minimum-wage workers are women: A wage hike would mean a raise 37 percent of black working women, 43 percent of Hispanic working women, and nearly half of working single moms of color. Only 13 percent of U.S. workers have employer-based paid family leave, and today women still make 78 cents on the dollar compared to their white male counterparts (black and Hispanic women make 64 and 56 cents, respectively). Seventy-three percent of Americans believe the government should enact policies to guarantee paid sick leave and paid family leave and to ensure equal pay, and 81 percent believe these changes would be good for the nation. Women know that addressing these issues would mean significant improvements for their families.
Fiorina is helping the Republican Party in its efforts to turn Trump’s misogyny against him, to simultaneously usher him out of the race and curry favor with the crucial women’s vote. She hopes to convince women that the party is not actually out of touch with them. But make no mistake: If Fiorina gets through the gates, she will attempt to rout women's rights in America.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the GOP lost the women's vote by 36 points. That is the margin by which the GOP lost the unmarried women's vote.