On gun control, women favor “controlling gun ownership” over “protecting gun rights” by a 57–38 percent margin, according to a recent Pew poll. Male opinion is reversed, favoring “gun rights” by 51 to 44 percent. Significant majorities of women support proposals to ban assault weapons, ban high-capacity magazines, ban online sales of ammunition, and track gun sales with a federal database, nearly all of which measures are unlikely to pass Congress owing to Republican (and substantial Democratic) opposition.
Recent polling on the minimum wage suggests overwhelming support among women for Obama’s proposal to raise the current minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $9 per hour. Nearly 80 percent of women support raising the minimum wage, and 64 percent say they “strongly” support it. Support is significant among non-college-educated women (82–9 percent), independent women (82–13), and even Republican women (58–30), a fact recently noted by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who went on to explain: “Today’s Republican leaders clearly feel disdain for low-wage workers.”
None of these policies has a particularly good chance of passing both houses of Congress any time soon. But that has never stopped President Obama and his Democratic allies from pushing such issues as a means to achieve political advantage. Generic-congressional-ballot polls taken since the election consistently show Democrats running ahead of Republicans by several points. If Democrats want to hold, or expand, their majority in the Senate, where a number of red-state incumbents are up in 2014, they are going to need all the wedge issues they can get their hands on, particularly if the economy continues to flounder.
The same is true when it comes to the unlikely, though not unthinkable, prospect of Democrats’ retaking the House. President Obama recently told House Democrats that his second-term agenda would help return Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) to the speakership.
Republican aides are increasingly convinced that taking the House back in 2014 is going to be Obama’s sole focus over the next two years. “Democrats are not presenting a good-faith effort to get legislation passed,” a Senate GOP aide says. “They simply want to have Republicans on record voting for or against, and to use those votes in political campaigns next year. They’re going to label us as obstructionists and extremists, and try to win back the House and a 60-vote majority in the Senate so they can push their real agenda.”
“Look, I don’t blame him for trying to win back the House,” says a House leadership aide. “I just wish he didn’t put that above the priorities of the nation. He’s been on a permanent campaign for four years, and we don’t expect him to stop any time soon.”
Whether or not Republicans are equipped to mount a successful challenge is another question. “This is a battle, every single hour of every single day, to get positive messages out there, so that we are able to communicate to people,” Representative Tom Price (R., Ga.) said at a National Review briefing last week. “You got to push back on the major media that is the complicit advocate for the Left, and push back strongly, and frequently.”
Brad Dayspring, National Republican Senatorial Committee strategist and former spokesman for House majority leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.), has a suggestion for how GOP lawmakers could make his job easier. “I’d be thrilled if they could get Democrats to actually vote on President Obama’s agenda,” he says. “It is far outside the mainstream of what is acceptable in Louisiana, North Carolina, or Montana. [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid [D., Nev.] has gotten away with it, and no one has been willing to call him on it, but I doubt he’s willing to bring the president’s policies, on gun control, cap-and-trade, to the floor right now.”
The key will be making sure Democratic senators such as Kay Hagan (N.C.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Max Baucus (Mont.), and Mark Begich (Alaska) are “forced to take some votes that could be game breakers in their states.” Dayspring cites the GOP’s success in driving conservative “Blue Dog” House Democrats from office by tying them to the president’s agenda as a blueprint to follow.
The Republican Senate aide was more skeptical that the GOP was up to the task. “They’re setting up to throw a Hail Mary with eleven guys in pads on the field, and we’re out there with five guys in T-shirts like we’re playing basketball,” the aide says of Democrats’ 2014 machinations. “Every single Republican should realize exactly what Democrats are doing. The best thing to do is expose their strategy and motives for pursuing that strategy, and talk about it as a united front.”
With respect to the “war on women,” Schaeffer says that conservatives might want to rethink their aversion to gender politics. “Very often conservatives are frightened of playing gender politics, and tend to ignore women altogether, to avoid being seen as pandering, which is a mistake,” Schaeffer says. “There are ways to reach out to women, to address their concerns, without pandering, simply by finding a better way of communicating.”
— Andrew Stiles is a political reporter forNational Review.