Daily Telegraph, Wednesday 7 November 2018
It’s a great time to be a woman with political ambitions in the US – as long as you’re a Democrat. People are rightly talking about the record number of women who have won seats in Congress in the midterm elections, but it isn’t across the board. There’s been a fall in the number of Republican women in the lower house, something that reflects the extremely polarised nature of American politics in the era of Donald Trump.
There’s no doubt that the President’s alpha male contempt for women has not just energised millions of women voters but encouraged many to put themselves forward as candidates. Yesterday’s elections brought two Muslim women into the House of Representatives, along with the election in Kansas of Sharice Davids, the first Native American woman in Congress, who also happens to be a lesbian.
But women don’t vote as a bloc, something that helped the Republican senator Ted Cruz retain his senate seat in Texas against the up-and-coming Democrat, Beto O’Rourke. The challenger’s lead among Latino and black voters was impressive, 63 per cent and 89 per cent respectively, but white voters kept Cruz in place. Crucially, according to exit polls, he won the votes of almost 60 per cent of white women, despite the fact that this one-time Trump critic has now re-joined the camp of the most openly misogynist President in American history.
This isn’t as surprising as it first appears. In cultures where men hold more of the power, women often identify with male interests even when it seems to involve acting against their own. Middle-class wives who have benefited from their husband’s status and success at work are alarmed by the #MeToo movement, which they see threatening respected figures who look like the men they live with. And they really hated the Democrats’ public display of support for Dr Christine Blasey Ford when she accused Trump’s supreme court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, of attempted rape. The Democratic senator Claire McCaskill, who has represented Missouri since 2006, lost her seat overnight after voting against Kavanaugh’s nomination. Her opponent, Josh Hawley, repeatedly attacked her for opposing Kavanaugh and suggested she was too liberal for the mid-western state.
The Republicans did better than expected in the Senate but the House results tell a different story. Turnout was way up on the last set of midterms, under Barack Obama, and it’s clear that huge numbers of women got involved because they despise Trump. They were one of the first groups to come out against the President, organising the largest one-day protest in American history only a day after his inauguration in January last year.
It’s clear from the midterm results that the contest between the two main parties remains ferocious and unpredictable. It’s too early to say what the midterms mean for the 2020 presidential election, but Trump’s decision to hold rallies for Republican candidates in hotly contested Senate seats seems to have paid off – for the time being. In the long-term, though, the demographics of 21-century America mean that the Republicans have more to worry about.
In the 2016 presidential election, a slight majority of white women voted for Trump. But cities likes Houston and Dallas are moving towards having majority non-white populations, one of the factors that made the contest between Cruz and O’Rourke so close in Texas. And while Republican support is holding up among older white women, it’s a different story in younger age groups. Back in August, polling among millennial women showed that almost 70 per cent support the Democrats – a finding that’s reflected in the party’s success in the lower chamber.
Trump is losing younger women voters by the shedload and the new House of Representatives, where 23 per cent of the seats are held by women, looks like the future. Over the next two years, the President will find it much harder to get his legislation through the House, finally providing some of the checks his opponents are desperate to see in place.
But the big story of the midterms is that there are now two Americas – one that’s young, ethnically diverse, intersectional and feminist, ranged against one which is old-fashioned, conservative and religious. Congress is starting to reflect the former, and a politics where feminism is no longer a dirty word.