Like Mel Gibson in that 2000 cinematic masterpiece, Mike Huckabee just wants to understand what women want. The erstwhile Arkansas governor, presidential candidate, and Fox talking head has been trying to change the narrative of the GOP’s difficulty connecting with women voters. His argument: Democrats’ focus on women’s reproductive health is demeaning, and makes them “victims of their gender.”
There’s good reason for Huckabee to have female politicians on the brain. In a recent CNN poll, he led Republicans but trailed Hillary Clinton, 56 percent to 39 percent. In last Saturday’s CPAC straw poll, Huckabee was sandwiched between Condoleezza Rice and Sarah Palin for second-to-last place.
Despite, or perhaps because of, these losses, Huckabee says that female political opponents should be given a lighter touch than man-on-man political wrassling. In an interview with The New Republic, Huckabee speculated on the difficulties of running against a female candidate, and he made a comment reminiscent of this scene from “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”
“I’ve twice run against women opponents, and it’s a very different kind of approach,” he tells [TNR reporter Nora Caplan-Bricker]. Different how? “For those of us who have some chivalry left, there’s a level of respect…. You treat some things as a special treasure; you treat other things as common.” A male opponent is “common,” a woman requires “a sense of pedestal.”
Huckabee is trying to convince female voters that it is Democrats, not Republicans, who are essentializing them by their reproductive organs (never mind that he once argued that women are worse at multitasking than men because of their menstrual cycles). During his speech to the RNC in January, Huckabee went on a doozy of a rant, arguing that Democrats see the government as “Uncle Sugar” and treat women as “hopeless creatures whose only goal in life is to have a government provide for them birth-control medication.”
Huckabee’s new quest is to protect female voters from Democratic brainwashing, and to defend the honor of his female opponents by giving them “a sense of pedestal.” As Huckabee told TNR: “I treat my wife very differently than I treat my chums and my pals. I wouldn’t worry about calling them on Valentine’s Day, opening the door for them, or making sure they were OK.”
But, while I appreciate a good door-holding-open as much as the next girl, Huckabee’s chivalry argument doesn’t really hold up when you’re trying to win elections. Political campaigns don’t have to be sexist, but they are innately unchivalrous (if they’re run well, at least). It’s disingenuous to conflate every political attack with sexism, and it’s a flawed argument made by both parties — Hillary Clinton’s hard-core defenders will often cry “Sexism!” as a crutch against legitimate criticism. Both sides are trying to convince women that the other party is condescending to them. But only Huckabee thinks it’s apt to compare Valentine’s Day to Election Day.
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