Former New Jersey Gov. Christine Whitman (R), the only other Republican woman to ever give the State of the Union response, shed some light on the GOP’s decision to tap House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) to give the party’s rebuttal to the speech on Tuesday.
“It’s hard for me to phrase this politely. Sometimes Republicans think that just putting a woman up front means somehow that women are going to feel good about the party. It is not about the messenger. It’s about the message,” she told the Los Angeles Times in an interview published Tuesday.
“And until we figure that one out, while it’s nice that we have a woman as a spokesperson, if the message itself doesn’t get changed a bit, it’s not going to work.”
Whitman still said she was pleased to see a female spokesperson for the party.
“But I think it is an attempt to say we’ve got prominent, articulate women, and she will certainly fill that role. And that’s great,” she said.
Some speculated that Republicans chose McMorris Rogers to counteract former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s comments about women’s libidos, as her rebuttal was announced soon after his controversial remarks. But a GOP aide said the decision had “absolutely nothing” to do with Huckabee.
Whitman, who has come out as pro-choice and declared her support for gay rights, said she would never be asked to give the Republican response today.
“Those who control the levers today are more extreme than I am,” she said. “They’re far to the right of me and don’t consider me a Republican.”
Whitman said that party leaders need to stop harping on issues like abortion if they want to appeal to female voters.
“Do I know that there are women that are pro-life? Absolutely. Of course I know that,” she said. “But for the majority of women this isn’t a partisan issue. It’s a very personal issue. Get off it.”