Late Monday night, Bloomberg News published what its reporters obviously thought was a bombshell dispatch. With more and more conventional Republican officeholders passing on or being denied speaking slots at the Republican Party’s nominating convention, some unconventional names are being floated as possible replacements. Among them were “Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka, former Indiana University coach Bobby Knight, and NASCAR chief Brian France.” But the most eye-catching name floated as a potential convention get was surely “former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson.” Donald Trump quickly took to Twitter to praise Tyson but also to insist that the report was not accurate. That might be true, but the most striking aspect of this report wasn’t that these unconventional figures might attend a Donald Trump nominating convention; it’s that no one seemed even the least bit surprised.
This report and the generally muted reaction to it, demonstrates just how far the nation has come (or gone, depending on your perspective) from 2012. Bloomberg’s is not the only journalistic outlet reporting that Trump is courting the boxer and convicted rapist to add star power to the convention lineup. Tyson served three years in prison following his 1992 conviction for the rape of 18-year-old Desiree Washington. ”I think that if rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it,” Coach Knight famously said in 1988. These are figures that 2012’s Republican Party wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. In 2016, they are right at home in Donald Trump’s GOP. The Republican Party’s transformation this year has, however, exposed the hollow cynicism of 2012’s fabricated “war on women” campaign.
There are few examples of a shallower and more contemptuous “get out the vote” effort than the Democratic Party’s slanderous “war on women” crusade against Republicans in 2012. The campaign was launched not by a Democratic operative on a committee’s payroll but by journalist and former Clinton administration operative George Stephanopoulos, who, during a 2012 debate, stunned political observers by inventing the issue of legal opposition to birth control from whole cloth.
“Governor Romney, do you believe that states have the right to ban contraception?” Stephanopoulos asked. Romney appeared stunned. He responded that no state or governor had even raised the prospect and, therefore, must decline to answer the baseless hypothetical.
The question seemed entirely unsubstantiated only to those who had not read the Affordable Care Act in its entirety (those who had were members of a particularly exclusive club in early 2012). Weeks later, a Department of Health and Human Services mandate within the ACA forcing religious organizations to pay for and provide employee coverage for contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs became a national controversy. The mandate launched a thousand court challenges, and it led Democrats to frame Republicans defending religious freedom laws as antediluvian misogynists who desire nothing more than to rob women of the right to their make their own reproductive choices.
Aided by some discomfiting and ignorant comments by Missouri Senate Candidate Todd Akin regarding the capacity of the female body to reject an involuntary conception, this attack on Republicans soon caught fire. The label “anti-women” was soon affixed to every Republican candidate for high office and virtually any Republican-sponsored piece of legislation even tangentially related to health care. It was in this way that the tortured logic of the “war on women” cast anyone with pro-life views a combatant in that make-believe conflict. It was an ill-considered extension of frontlines in this fight to indefensible parameters.
In a way, the “war on women” was a victim of its own success. It helped create a double-digit gender gap in 2012 that modestly favored Democrats. It helped Mitt Romney lose unmarried women by a whopping 36 points. But in vanquishing the GOP’s Akins of 2012, the Democratic Party was left with few foils to target when they revived the tactic two years later. By the time Democrats reprised what Politico had dubbed a “proven, persuasive argument” against the GOP in the form of the War on Women 2.0, it had already become a conclusion in search of evidence. Republicans long ago learned to defuse the so-called “pay gap” argument by demonstrating its non-existence and neutralize reproductive rights controversies by supporting over-the-counter access to oral contraception methods. In the end, “war on women” advocates were reduced to accusing Republicans of secretly supporting a prohibition on prophylactics like condoms. The left’s arguments became so facile that they simply imploded.
You’ve not heard much about the “war on women” this year. The left doesn’t need it. Donald Trump defies traditional conservative classification. He is, by any stretch, no pro-lifer. Despite his comments to the contrary, Trump has repeatedly demonstrated his friendliness toward the post-Roe status quo (his silence on this week’s sweeping Supreme Court ruling on abortion is only the latest confirmation). It is, however, Trump’s blatant history of flagrant misogyny that has torn 2012’s gender gap into a gender chasm. An 18-point gender gap is now a 30-point gender gap, and that disparity didn’t need to be manufactured. Democrats didn’t have to invent a crusade against motherhood or daycare; they didn’t need to fabricate in their GOP opponents a fanciful latent prejudice against the menstrual cycle. All they needed to do is show Trump as he is.
In the end, Republicans can be criticized for ratifying the nonsensical “war on women” by nominating a toxic candidate. In doing so, however, they also exposed how much effort went into concocting this fictional war in the first place.