The DNC is backing off from a phrase that has played an oversize role in the campaign so far. But the change of plans is news to many progressive groups — and even some national Democrats.
Friday exposed universal disdain for the phrase “war on women” among both the Democrats who’ve been using it as a cudgel for months, and the Republicans who first tried to kill it and finally tried to re-purpose it for themselves.
“I’m not a fan of the term,” he told Weigel. “I mean, I’m sure I’ve probably used it. We all fall into these easy vernaculars … but we in the DNC have not been running a campaign based on the term ‘war on Women.’ That’s a myth cooked up by Republicans.”
The policy battle underlying the line will continue to be a big part of the campaign, Democrats say, but Republicans were happy to hear national Democrats abandoning the “war” rhetoric.
But it won’t be so easy to scrub the phrase from the campaign trail. National Democrats were still using the “war on women” phrasing Friday, and progressives promise to keep the phrase alive.
The rhetoric battle can be a tiring one — D.C.’s special talent for destroying a legitimate policy fight and distill it to a two-word shout-fest. But both parties rely on sound-bite phrasing to hammer their messages home, and campaign victories often hinge on which side can better define the other. Words are important, and that’s why Republicans were slapping one another on the back after Thursday.
Up to now, the “war on women” line has been a handy tool for Democrats to encapsulate many Republican legislative priorities that have left large chunks of the female electorate alienated and left Romney suffering under a massive polling gender gap.
Republicans high-fived on Twitter over Woodhouse’s apparent retread, but one operative told TPM there wasn’t much expectation that the frustrating line will really disappear.
Indeed, multiple Democrats told TPM Friday that Woodhouse’s comments did not signify a change in direction for the party. Vice President Biden invoked the “war on women” — and the policy fight behind it — in an interview with MSNBC’s Ed Schultz Thursday night:
Other Democratic Party campaign arms have relied on the “war on women” line for fundraising and messaging. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sells a “Stop The War On Women” magnet on its website, for example. The DCCC did not respond to a request for comment on its plans to continue using “war on women” in office communications, but it did send out an email to supporters Friday with the subject line “The Republican War on Women is real.”
The underlying policy fight still favors the Democrats, party officials and women’s rights advocates say, and so there’s no chance the actual war is going away — even if the rhetorical “war” might be.
Planned Parenthood, which has been at the center of the “war on women” debate thanks to Republican attempts and Romney’s promise to defund the organization, is hammering Republicans on women’s health issues and is continuing to do so without mentioning a “war on women.” The group hasn’t hasn’t used the phrase, and says it’s not necessary to get the point across.
“Women voters aren’t going to be motivated by phrases or slogans,” said Planned Parenthood spokesperson Tait Sye. “What they are concerned about is the issues and politicians’ positions on issues.”
Here’s a succinct example of an ad using that concept from the DNC.
But Romney won’t be able to escape the line, despite the new Democratic reticence. MoveOn.org just launched an online campaign calling on Romney to “stop your Republican war on women” and and the group dismissed Democratic ambivalence about the words.
“Since they took power in a lot of places, Republicans are governing as if they have a mandate to turn the clock back to the 1950s or even earlier than that when it comes to women’s rights,” said Justin Ruben, executive director of MoveOn. “If that’s not a clear and present danger to women’s lives, then I don’t know what is. So we’re certainly not going to mince words when we talk about it, and the ‘war on women’ is a powerful phrase that captures the real, live threat to women’s lives.”
The Progressive Change Campaign Committee — a group that is no stranger to taking on mainstream Democrats — criticized the DNC for walking away from what it says is a winning message for Democrats.
Adam Green, co-founder of the PCCC, said Democrats have “retreated from true and accurate information in the face of one iota of criticism,” by walking back from the phrase “war on women.”
“The good news is almost nobody takes their messaging cues from these institutions, so it’s kind of moot,” Green said.
Correction: This post originally said The War On Women magnet was available for sale on a DNC website. The online store selling the item is actually run by the DCCC.