The second and third nights of the Republican National Convention featured a number of leading Republican women voicing their adulation for President Donald Trump while painting a dark picture of what the country would look like under the leadership of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. The messaging seemed to be directed at the one group Trump is losing support among: suburban white women, who appear to have grown disillusioned by Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, his antics and crassness, his willingness to antagonize, his racism and sexism.
Trump, who won the suburban vote by 5 percentage points in 2016 and carried 53 percent of the white women vote, has seen his approval rate drop among women living in suburbs or small cities, with 68 percent now disapproving of Trump’s job as president, according to an August NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll. And the president’s approval rating among white women at large is falling as well.
And so the Republican National Convention trotted out women and people of color who support Trump no matter what those damn Democrats say, insisting that Trump is not racist, he is not sexist, he is actually a very nice guy despite what your lying eyes and ears may tell you. They made the case that Trump, in fact, has hired women and supports criminal justice reform, even dolling out a live pardon on Tuesday night like it was a free car on reality TV. But the messengers were just as extreme as their president.
The line-up Tuesday began in earnest with anti-choice activist Abby Johnson, a superstar for anti-choice causes whose memoir became a biopic hit among conservative audiences. Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood employee who now works to convert those working in pro-choice circles to her anti-choice beliefs, began by attacking Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger as a eugenicist, arguing that its truly the Democrats with their pro-choice ideals who are racist baby killers.
“Margaret Sanger was a racist who believed in eugenics. Her goal when founding Planned Parenthood was to eradicate the minority population,” Johnson said, claiming that Planned Parenthood clinics today are strategically located in minority neighborhoods.
The argument is one she has made before, selectively speaking about how the eugenics movement and birth control movement intersected during the 1920s. While Sanger did embrace the eugenics movement—popular among both political parties at the time—she did so as a way to expand support for the legalization of birth control. In fact, Sanger worked with W.E.B. DuBois, the founder of the NAACP, the major legal organization dedicated to the advancement of Black people, to bring safe contraception to women of color.
Not included in Johnson’s speech were her own views on race. Johnson once said that cops would be “smart” to racially profile her own adopted biracial son, because “statistically, my brown son is more likely to commit a violent offense over my white sons,” as Vice reported ahead of her appearance. “So the fact that in his head, he would be more careful around my brown son than my white son, that doesn’t actually make me angry. That makes that police officer smart, because of statistics,” Johnson said in the since-deleted YouTube video.
In her speech, Johnson recounted her life story, a story that has been in dispute since she first told it publicly in 2009, describing in detail an abortion she says took place the day she quit Planned Parenthood—a procedure that she could not have witnessed because the day on which it supposedly happened, the clinic had no ultrasound abortions at all. Truth be damned, the graphic tale was directed not only at the evangelical supporters who made up the base of Trump voters in 2016 but at suburban white women uncomfortable with or unsure of their stance on abortion. “And this election is a choice between two radical, anti-life activists and the most pro-life president we have ever had,” Johnson concluded her speech.
Johnson may have presented herself as palatable to some white suburban moms, but her views are extreme. Johnson’s appearance was promoted by far-right activist Jack Posobeic, who furthered the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory and whom Johnson retweeted in the days ahead of her appearance. In May, Johnson advocated for household voting in which one person, usually the man of the household, votes for the whole household, The 19th reported. Historically, household voting has barred women and people of color from voting. And not only is Johnson for taking away a woman’s right to vote and her right to choose, she is against birth control, effectively insisting that women must bear children or live as a celibate nun.
Here’s another one. I would support bringing back household voting. ? How anti-feminist of me. ?
— Abby Johnson (@AbbyJohnson) May 2, 2020
Johnson was just the first taste of a Republican women-promoted evening. A video featuring the women working in Trump’s administration set to inspirational tunes shown the spotlight on Kellyanne Conway, the unapologetic spinmeister who defended the Trump administration’s policy of separating kids from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border as well as candidate Trump bragging about grabbing women by the “pussy,” insisting he always had been “gracious and a gentleman” to her.
“Knowing the monumental tasks, he rested all of his hopes for winning on one woman,” a woman’s voice narrates. “Because of that trust, he became the 45th president of the United States, and Kellyanne Conway became the first woman in history to manage a winning presidential campaign.”
The video moved on to highlight the string of female White House press secretaries Trump has gone through since Sean Spicer stepped down, flashing footage of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who effectively killed the daily briefing, Stephanie Grisham, who held not one press briefing, and the current press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, whose promise not to lie to the American public lasted not one hour. Trump, it seems, has been so kind as to have given so many women the opportunity to shamelessly lie for him.
Wednesday night, the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, featured a video seemingly celebrating the achievement of suffragettes, but it spent more time stressing how Susan B. Anthony voted Republican—with big block letters flashing on the screen—in 1872. Later footage showed Trump signing a posthumous pardon of Anthony—a pardon that was rejected by the Susan B. Anthony Museum, whose CEO, Deborah L. Hughes, said the best way to honor Anthony would be to restore the Voting Rights Act.
Conway took the stage herself later Wednesday evening, making plain her case for women to vote for Trump.
“A woman in a leadership role can still seem novel,” Conway claimed. “Not so for President Trump. For decades, he has elevated women to senior positions in business and in government. He confides in and consults us, respects our opinions, and insists that we are on equal footing with the men. President Trump helped me shatter a barrier in the world of politics by empowering me to manage his campaign to its successful conclusion.”
Kayleigh McEnany attempted to paint a picture of a compassionate Trump with a story about the president calling her after her mastectomy, wrapping up her speech by saying with a straight face, “I want my daughter to grow up in President Donald J. Trump’s America.”
The RNC’s courting to white women featured a two-pronged approach. While some female RNC speakers suggested that Trump wasn’t all that racist or sexist—just look at the women and people of color saying he’s not!—others fear-mongered about anarchy, Black “mobs” looting, and the death of the suburbs.
One night after police initially let go the white 17-year-old armed vigilante who shot three people protesting police brutality, killing two in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee praised law enforcement and attacked Democrats for wanting to “cancel” the police. Blackburn’s extremism is well-documented; in 2018, a Blackburn ad described a “caravan” of migrants as “gang members, known criminals, people from the Middle East, possibly even terrorists.”
Trump admirer Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota spoke Wednesday about Americans’ flight to the suburbs—generally called “white flight”—claiming that violence is rampant in Democratic-run cities.
“From Seattle and Portland to Washington and New York, Democrat-run cities across this country are being overrun by violent mobs,” she said. “The violence is rampant. There’s looting, chaos, destruction, and murder. People that can afford to flee have fled. But the people that can’t—good, hard-working Americans—are left to fend for themselves.”
It’s unclear how these ploys to court the suburban white women vote will fare. More than 180,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus pandemic still rampant in the U.S., and Trump is pushing for kids to go back to school, risking the safety of our youth and increasing the rate at which the coronavirus spreads. (Not that anyone listening to the RNC would have heard about the coronavirus in the present tense.) Racial justice protests have erupted because of the impunity with which some police commit acts of violence against Black Americans, cheered on by Trump’s “law and order” rhetoric and actions.
The United States is chaotic, and now more than ever, there’s a desire for a sense of normalcy. How suburban white women will vote depends on who they blame for the state of the country and whether they’re willing to address sexism and racism or whether they’d prefer to sweep it under the rug.