In the month or so that’s led up to the midterm elections, here’s a snapshot of just a few things that made headlines: The President of the United States called Stormy Daniels “horseface.” An ex-Trump campaign staffer slammed Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic candidate for Senate in Texas, as a “beta male.” Almost the entire Republican establishment banded together to nominate a man accused of sexual assault to the highest court in the land. After that, the president publicly mocked the woman who testified under oath against him. That man was confirmed, by the way.
And an NPR-Ipsos poll released this week showed that over 40 percent of Americans believe the Me Too movement has “gone too far,” with a full 77 percent of Republicans responding that false accusations are “common.” (Not true.) Which of course comes after the President of the United States came out with this gem: “It’s a very scary time for young men,” Trump said in an address to reporters on the White House lawn earlier this month.
Taken together, the moments suggest a unified approach, and one that others have noticed too. The GOP’s strategy leading up to the midterms is not their usual proposal for jobs, national security, or even small government; their sales pitch is toxic masculinity. Some suspect that this could cost them valuable female voters at the polls. And the numbers suggest a modest exodus of women from the GOP is happening. Over the summer, support for Republican candidates from Republican women plummeted by 11 points.
As we’ve gotten closer to this election, the gender gap has widened. Still, in all the examination over whether conservative women will or will not elect Republican candidates, there’s been less vocal concern that Republicans could lose the support of men. We expect that men will stick with a power structure and a raft of terrible ideologies that serve them. That’s sad.
The GOP’s strategy leading up to the midterms is not their usual proposal for jobs, national security, or even small government; their sales pitch is toxic masculinity.
And it’s not the first time I’ve witnessed it. Just before the 2016 election, I was reporting from one of Donald Trump’s last campaign rallies in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. An infamous Gallup poll that showed 7 out of 10 women had an unfavorable view of Trump had been cited ad nauseam in the national media for months. I went to Pennsylvania to speak to women who did support Trump. Almost 24 months later, one white middle-aged woman’s comments have stuck with me. I raised the poll, and she paused and said, “I think 7 out of 10 women probably have an unfavorable view of a lot of men.” The implication? That hasn’t stopped them from associating with terrible men before.
In that moment, I felt bad for women. But I felt sadder for men. This woman wasn’t supporting Donald Trump because she had a high opinion of him; she was supporting him because she had such a low opinion of men.
Ever since, Donald Trump has become the ultimate poster boy for toxic masculinity. And all the while, his fellow Republicans have proudly followed his lead. The case of now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the bench is a perfect example. At the time, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) said that if the “new standard” for nominees is to never have been accused of sexual assault, “no man [would] ever qualify” for the Supreme Court of the United States again. Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), a current Senate candidate, took it one step further, telling reporters, “Even if it’s all true, does it disqualify him?” And Joe Walsh, a former Republican congressman, tweeted, “If stupid, bad, or drunken behavior as a minor back in high school were the standard, every male politician in Washington, DC, would fail.”
Are all men really comfortable with this characterization of their entire gender? And if it’s not this, then what it would take for them to abandon the GOP? Because as it stands now, the GOP isn’t just sending a message to girls that their pain is no match for a man’s ambitions. It’s also sending an insidious signal to boys—you’re hard-wired to be bad, so why bother trying to be good?
So far conservative men have stayed loyal to the Republican Party. In fact, the 2018 midterm election is expected to have a record-breaking gender gap. While Democrats hold a massive 30-point lead over Republicans in terms of female voters, the Republicans have an eight point advantage with male voters.
Is there even some fraction of Republican men who wants to raise the bar of expectations for what it means to be a man in 2018?
But some men are starting to leave the party over its establishment’s relentless misogyny. Cameron, a 26-year-old investment banker and registered Republican, said that the message that men can’t “help themselves” or that all men mistreat women is “ridiculous.”
“That’s absurd,” he said. “Whoever believes that wasn’t raised properly. [Saying] ‘boys will be boys’ about things like assault is frankly genuinely insulting.” He added that it promoted “abuse towards women” and said he felt “sad that the people who represent my party grew up like that.”
Although he hasn’t decided how he’ll vote in the midterms, he said he’s unlikely to vote for a Republican. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable with myself knowing that I supported a candidate with those kinds of values,” he explained. “You don’t have my vote.”
I heard similar frustrations from Emerson, a 32-year-old registered Republican who lives in Georgia. While he said he tends to be politically active, he hasn’t decided if he’ll vote Republican next week. When I asked him about the Kavanaugh hearings he said he’d been “very uncomfortable with the entire experience.” The confirmation process, he said, undid what progress Republicans and the nation writ large had made when it comes to gender equality. “We have had a huge national discussion about how common [it is that] women are victimized. The #MeToo movement was all about that,” he said. “Everyone learned that every woman they know has been a victim.” When I asked him how he felt in the last few weeks, he exhaled. “Existentially sad,” he said. “It’s been soul-crushing to watch this happen.”
Quardricos Driskell, who teaches legislative affairs at George Washington University and is also a registered Republican, believes that the Kavanaugh hearings are a sign of a deeply rooted and systemic problem for the Republican Party that will only continue to grow. “The senators are protecting him because in many ways they are just like him; he is apart of the same or similar [ilk],” he wrote over email. “The entire hearing is symptomatic of larger issues in America—race, patriarchy and class.”
“Men don’t need to be afraid, especially white men,” Driskell said, responding to Trump’s cautioning. “Cynically, this notion of men being afraid of women accusing them and being sacred for their boys is the genesis of a future Gilead…. Patriarchy is the issue, here. And a complete disregard for women and victims.”
Millennial women are leaving the GOP in droves, and there’s even some indication that married (white) women, a usual stronghold for Republicans, are backing away. A million headlines have told us in no uncertain terms that women are powering the resistance, that suburban white women could cost the Republicans their congressional muscle, that more women than ever are running and winning.
But what about the men? Is there even some fraction of Republican men who wants to raise the bar of expectations for what it means to be a man in 2018? (We know some Democratic men are out there. “I have been troubled by the excuse offered by too many that this was a high school incident and ‘boys will be boys,’” said Senator Chris Coons (D-CT) when Dr. Ford’s testified in the Senate. “To me that’s just far too low a standard for the conduct of boys and men in our country.”)
The 2016 presidential race produced the largest electoral gender gap of all time, and experts have predicted even that spread will be topped in the 2018 midterm elections. White women may at last start to leave the Republican Party in consequential numbers, recognizing that proximity to power (their husbands, their fathers) is not the same as genuine equality. Women may reject the GOP’s toxic masculinity platform. When, if ever, will men?
Liz Plank is an award-winning journalist and the Executive Producer of Divided States of Women at Vox Media
In a pivotal election year, Glamour is keeping track of the historic number of women running (and voting) in the midterm elections. For more on our latest midterm coverage, visit glamour.com/midterms.