To whom it may concern in the conservative punditocracy:
I’m not one for horserace election commentary, particularly this far out from the actual election, but let’s be honest: we’ve all known Hillary would be running in 2016 ever since Obama locked up the ’08 nomination. I don’t want to throw the phrase “foregone conclusion” out there, but if the shoe fits, as they say.
Now, conservative pundits, you may not realize it, but you have an opportunity here. As you no doubt have realized by now, single women 1. represent a growing segment of the US population, and 2. skew towards Democrats. The War On Women campaign has proven to be wildly popular among female voters (its stupefying lack of substance notwithstanding), and has successfully branded Republicans as the party of White Patriarchal Men (Todd Akin didn’t do much to help, either). You might not win those voters over in the next cycle, but you have a chance to re-frame the issue.
To be clear, I’m not saying conservatives are inherently sexist (I’m not not saying it either, though). You’re free to have your opinions about whether physical sex differences trump the sociological environment in determining masculine and feminine behaviors. I personally don’t see much value in enforcing a strict binary gender scheme, but I won’t begrudge you the shorter life expectancy and higher suicide rate if that’s the path you want to take. What I am saying is that a Hillary campaign would be an opportunity for you all to Walk the Walk, and put to rest the idea that mainstream conservatives hate women, or at least the ones who don’t stay in the kitchen making sandwiches. Here’s how:
1. Distance yourself from the true bigots. If it were easy to cast out from the hive every superficial demagogue or fringe wingnut, libertarians would have a much easier time. Don’t think I don’t understand. But what you can do is make it clear that another conservative’s sexist views don’t represent yours. You can, for example, start by moderating your comments sections for words like “bitch” and “whore.” Remember, the right to free speech doesn’t translate to the right to an audience, and it’s not a sign of unprincipled totalitarianism to set a standard for the discourse that happens within your domain.
2. Don’t make it about appearances. I don’t expect many of you professional writers to be blatantly insulting toward Mrs. Clinton’s appearance. Rush Limbaugh made waves when he called Michelle Obama fat, but there are lots of little ways to insinuate something about a woman’s appearance without directly focusing on it. Saying she looks “tired,” for example, or that her style is “utilitarian.” If you wouldn’t write a similar sentence about Joe Biden’s or John Kerry’s wrinkled visages and untailored suits, don’t write it about Hillary. (Bonus: If Chris Christie ends up being a viable candidate, you’ll be able to call out left-leaning writers for the weight-based remarks they’ll inevitably make. The moral high horse is yours for the taking!)
3. Utilize the Find + Replace function. Before you hit that publish button, replace all instances of the word “Hillary” with “Henry.” Strike anything that doesn’t make sense or seems inappropriate. Is there a sentence about Henry Clinton’s high heels or designer “pantsuit?” Cut it – you’re not Glamour. Does your criticism of Henry read a little too paternalistic or patronizing? Reword it. Remember that even though Hillary cried that one in 2008 time and everyone made a big deal about it, John Boehner cries all the time.
I don’t subscribe to social conservative ideas about how people ought to live – I’m a libertarian, and I tend to think people ought to be free to do whatever mad thing they want to do, so long as they don’t harm others. But I also believe in the positive influence that an inclusive conservative movement could have on the larger American culture, beyond mere politics. Thrift, honesty, loyalty, hard work, integrity, family, Jayne Cobb’s Twitter account – these are all wonderful things. However, the Left has successfully branded conservatives as backwards, out-of-touch bigots, and your response has seemingly been to either 1. double-down on that bigotry by exalting offensive, in-your-face personalities like Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter,* or 2. waste your time with efforts to pinpoint the Left’s “hypocrisy” via the oxymoron we call “conservative media” (hint: the Left doesn’t care about George Soros or whether progressive think tanks receive corporate money).
Your own consultants are telling you to cool off on the Culture War messaging. Electoral demographics on the national level don’t appear to be in your favor. I can’t confidently say that treating the first serious female presidential candidate with respect is going to bring all the single ladies over to your side (it certainly won’t be good for running ads against incendiary click-bait). But it will help take away some of the ammo from the state-embiggening Left-progressive machine.
*Moderate and thoughtful conservative commentators certainly exist (e.g. Conor Friedersdorf, Ross Douthat, etc.); the problem is that they write for publications that are read by liberals, not movement conservatives.