Are Republican Women (for Hillary) this election cycle’s Reagan Democrats?

One clear message from the 2016 election has been the unwillingness of many women who identify as Republicans to support their party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump.  Indeed, many Republican women Members of Congress have publicly stated their refusal to vote for Trump and intention to instead write in the name of a more suitable Republican.  Other Republican women have embraced the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton.  I recently interviewed one such Republican woman, Jennifer Pierotti Lim, founder of Republican Women for Hillary (RWFH), to discuss her decision to support Hillary Clinton and her thoughts on whether Republican women like her will return to their party following the 2016 election (and whether they even want to).

1469754500-gettyimages-584272610RC: You have supported Republican candidates and worked on behalf of Republicans for many years. Is your background similar to other members of RWFH?

JPL: Yes. We have organized groups in nine states and the District of Columbia. Most of our women members have significant party credentials having worked on the Hill for Republican members, with the Republican National Committee (RNC), or Republican parties in the states.  Even though I am voting for Hillary Clinton, I don’t agree with her on a number of policy issues, economic or social. For example, simplifying the tax code and reducing regulations are very important issues to me. But regardless of our policy differences I do believe she is the better candidate.

We don’t consider ourselves Republican women joining the Democratic Party. At the same time, we are stuck because there is no home for us in the current Republican Party.  There is a whole generation of Republican women who don’t see themselves as being represented by or wanting to be associated with the Republican Party right now.

RC: Is that feeling of being stuck the result of Trump as the Republican presidential nominee?

JPL:  That’s certainly a part of it, combined with the number of Republican leaders who endorsed Trump this election. On the bright side, there are so many Republicans, men and women, looking to rebuild the Party because right now it is merely a vestige of a party we once knew. With Trump as the nominee we are very concerned about who identifies with the Republican Party and their place in it, particularly now that the party platform has been dragged so far to the right.

RC:  Do you think that feeling will pass once the election is over or are Republican women this election cycle’s Reagan Democrats who leave the Party and don’t come back?

JPL: I don’t know how I’ll feel about the Republican Party after this election. It’s hard to still feel like a Republican but not identify with the Party at this point.  At the last debate watch party RWFH sponsored I heard many Republican women say they won’t consider going back unless major changes are made by Party leadership. We are angry because we feel our Party has let us down and many of us have spoken out about how we feel. I believe this election is a more severe circumstance than what happened with Reagan Democrats because the Republican Party has alienated an entire generation of young leaders and also spurred the movement of Republicans voting for Hillary.

I feel a deep sense of betrayal from Republican leadership who have endorsed Trump and stood behind him. They’ve made, and continue to make, leadership decisions based on their support for Trump. I recognize that [Speaker of the House] Ryan and [Senate Majority Leader] McConnell are in a tough spot, but at the very least they could have chosen not to endorse Trump.  They have not. And Trump surrogates take pride in knowing that he treats both men and women poorly.  Before I would even consider going back I would expect the Party to make major changes in its leadership and talk very honestly about how to earn trust back from the men and women who did not want Trump.

RC: Didn’t the Party do a version of this soul-searching after the 2012 election when Governor Romney lost to Barack Obama?

JPL:  Yes, that’s exactly what happened with the post-mortem report.  In that report it clearly said that there were not enough Republican women in leadership positions or who had a voice at the policy table.  And I was excited. I thought, oh great, they realize they need to work on these problems. But that’s not what happened at all.

RC:  Do you think that’s because of the culture within the Republican Party? Political science research has shown that the Republican Party is especially focused on its members as loyal to the Party.

JPL: I do think that’s a part of it. Right now there are a lot of groups choosing to focus on down ballot races and are silent on Trump.  It’s tone deaf to pretend that this issue doesn’t exist because these problems will persist after this election.  There are a lot of people in the Republican Party who value the opposite of political correctness and believe that we all have the same views on policy regardless of gender. The belief is that the lens of women’s experience in the Party shouldn’t matter, so it likely wasn’t seen as a pressing priority to ensure women have adequate representation in Party leadership.

RC: What role do you think Republican women Members of Congress will play in dealing with a new administration?

JPL: At this point it’s unclear who will be penalized or rewarded moving forward within the Republican Party, which could have a role in determining how vocal these Members of Congress decide they should be. I do think there is an important place for Republican women in the next Congress because they have legitimate policy views and can be consensus builders on a variety of issues. We can also expect that more women’s issues will be part of Hillary’s agenda if she wins, and Republican women in Congress could be extremely effective in communicating with the larger Republican community.


cooperman_WEBRosalyn Cooperman is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, VA.  Cooperman’s research focuses on the relationship between political parties, PACs, and women candidates, as well as elite attitudes regarding women’s political participation.  Since 2004, Cooperman has served as a principal investigator for the Convention Delegate Study, a survey of Democratic and Republican party delegates.  She is also co-principal investigator for the 2014 National Supporter Survey, a survey of campaign donors to political parties and women’s PACs.  In addition to the publication of book chapters on women candidates, Cooperman’s research on political parties has been published in such journals as American Political Science Review and Political Science Quarterly.  Cooperman serves as a commentator for U.S. News & World Report’s Debate Club.  She received her B.A. from Indiana University and her Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University.