What the GOP Got Wrong About Women During Their Latest Debate

A debate hosted by CNBC, the business side of NBC News, should have been a prime opportunity to focus on economics, and, as such, women. After all, women make up a larger portion of the workforce, they often receive lower wages, they live longer and subsequently need more options in retirement, they make most of the household purchases, and until the passage of Obamacare they paid more for their healthcare just because they were in fact women.

And, for most of the debate they were largely ignored as a population who has specific economic needs that should be addressed. Yes, even with a woman in the ring to talk about it.

By all accounts, it was the moderators who lost all control at last night’s debate. Their inability to hold candidates in line made them the punching bag of the evening just as much as all of the attacks that the candidates lobbed at them for allegedly being unfair or biased did. But while punching down at the media was an early and frequent tactic of debaters, according to a transcript created by Fusion the word “women” did not come up until almost a quarter of the way into the debate, and only then would come up as a portion of the phrase “men and women.” A full debate on reforming (and ending) Social Security ignored the fact that women are the largest recipients of the program and will be the most impacted should cuts be enacted or the program be repealed and replaced. Later, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio nearly pays lip service to a woman-centered topic by stating he wants a “pro-family tax plan” that would apparently offer more child tax credits (because a woman could earn her family more money by giving birth more often I suppose).

It was Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas who was first forced to address women’s economic issues specifically, roughly half-way through the debate. When asked about what could be done to address the wage gap between working women and men, Cruz instead turned the question into a time to praise the “single moms” in his life, and completely ignores the question itself. “And you know, when you see Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and all the Democrats talking about wanting to address the plight of working women, not a one of them mentioned the fact that under Barack Obama 3.7 million women have entered poverty,” answered Cruz. “Not a one of them mentioned the fact that under Barack Obama and the big government economy the median wage for women has dropped $733. The the truth of the matter is, big government benefits the wealthy, it benefits the lobbyists, it benefits the giant corporations and the people getting hammered are small businesses, it’s single moms, it’s Hispanics. That is who I’m fighting for. The people that Washington leaves behind.”

Former CEO Carly Fiorina then jumped in and also doesn’t say a thing about how to address the wage gap. “[I]t is the height of hypocrisy for Mrs. Clinton to talk about being the first woman president when every single policy she espouses, and every single policy of President Obama has been demonstrably bad for women. 92%, 92% of the jobs lost during Barack Obama’s first term belonged to women. Senator Cruz is precisely right. Three million women have fallen into poverty under this administration. The number of women living in extreme poverty is the highest level on record. I am a conservative. Because I know our values our principles and our policies will try to lift everyone up. Men and women.” Besides completely ignoring women as a separate economic group with its own needs, Fiorina’s claims have been noted as factually inaccurate as well.

From that moment on, women were all but ignored. Cruz briefly brought up the “single mother buying hamburger” and seeing it’s cost increase as a reason we need to return to the gold standard for our money, an economic policy that is both unrealistic and a pander to the far right Tea Party wing of the GOP. Then a very quick mention of immigration issues dropped the word women in but then pulled right back out again.

All in all, except for a question on the wage gap, women were ignored despite being key figures in our nation’s economic welfare. There were no questions about minimum wages, although Fiorina offered on her own that she believes it is unconstitutional. There was no discussion of paid leave, of support for new parents in the workplace. No discussion of the skyrocketing costs of childcare, which far outstrip the rise in the cost of hamburger. There was no mention of contraception, either from the cost standpoint of forcing a person to purchase it over the counter, or from a business viewpoint since the GOP is adamant that employers be allowed to veto insurance coverage for it.

In fact, in the GOP debate there are simply two kinds of women: single mothers or “men and women” where the needs of women are the same as and can be addressed by supporting the economic needs of men.

Women have different economic issues than men, and we expect our politicians to acknowledge and address them. Republicans had better keep that in mind, since we also represent the majority of the vote as well.