The youngest woman to hold a state office in America took the stage in a Center City hotel ballroom to rapturous cheers from the crowd who had campaigned to get her there: the National Federation of Republican Women.
Allison Ball, 36, told the assembled delegates — the women’s wing of the GOP, bedecked in Trump pins and American-flag scarves — how instrumental the women of the party had been in her successful campaign for Kentucky state treasurer. How important it was to encourage more women to run for office.
Still, Ball said, grinning: The crowd in the ballroom “prove there’s no such thing as women’s issues. Only people’s issues.”
It was a theme the federation, at Philadelphia’s Downtown Marriott for its 39th biennial meeting, would return to throughout the weekend — a convention for women, organized by women, that kept insisting that the necessity of political action on behalf of women is a fantasy of the left.
To the members of the National Federation of Republican Women, that’s not a contradiction. “It’s just not fair to put all women in the same basket,” Carrie Almond, the outgoing NFRW president, said in an interview on Sunday. “It really is about all issues.”
Those issues dovetailed largely with the agenda of the president they had helped elect: border security (a few “Build the Wall” chants echoed periodically), tax reform, and an Obamacare repeal. The biggest cheers, though, came whenever someone reminded the crowd that Hillary Clinton was not the president. (A reporter’s questions about Trump’s own statements on women, several hours after the president tweeted an gif of himself hitting Clinton with a golf ball, were met with mostly eye rolls.)
Almond was riding high: in her two years at the head of the 79-year-old organization, Republicans have won the House, the Senate, and the White House (and, nearly everyone kept reminding themselves, a Supreme Court seat to boot). The former banker from Chillicothe, Mo. spent most of last year on a touring bus nicknamed “Rosie,” campaigning for Trump and other Republican candidates in 39 states. NFRW members logged millions of volunteer hours during the campaign.
“This organization led the country in unity behind our nominee,” she said.
Indeed, speaker after speaker (of the six keynote addresses open to the press, five were delivered by men), stressed that Republican women are the unsung backbone of the party, the ones who kept things running in off years, who showed up in droves to canvass and fund-raise during election seasons.
But they’re largely working to elect men: Democratic women outnumber their Republican counterparts in Congress, by nearly three to one. The president’s cabinet contains exactly two women.
The NFRW says they’re working to correct that: they launched a workshop on running for office at this year’s convention and plan to host more in Indiana and Kentucky later this year.
Women are more likely to assume they’re not qualified for office, and “Republican women tend to be very oriented around raising a family,” said Cynthia Ayers, who spent two decades in the National Security Agency and is running in Pennsylvania’s Republican Senate primary next year. “Men don’t necessarily keep that in mind when running for office. It’s harder for women to break in at that point. And the funding seems to be there for men when they run.”
The group is working to reach out to younger voters, too. On Sunday, Jason Emert, the national head of the Young Republicans, reminded the room that in the last two years, 23 percent of Republicans under 30 have defected to the Democratic Party. “That’s unacceptable,” he said. He told the largely middle-aged, largely white crowd that younger generations are the most diverse the country has ever seen, and that the party must work to reflect them, too.
Emert’s was the only speech that evinced a tone of anything but total victory, though. U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri waxed poetic about organizing this year’s inauguration. Pennsylvania Republican Committee Chairman Val DiGiorgio spoke of reaching out to voters in this Democrat-run city with a “missionary zeal.”
Eric Golub, a right-wing comedian, rattled off new nicknames for Hillary Clinton (“Preparation H”), Nancy Pelosi (“Pelociraptor”) and Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown University law student who testified in support of health insurance coverage for contraceptives in 2012 and was called a “slut” by Rush Limbaugh (“Take your phony war on women and shut the Sandra Fluke up,” Golub quipped). The crowd howled with laughter.
Outside the ballroom, delegates attended workshops on pushing legislative agendas and increasing membership in their hometown chapters. They also voted on several resolutions, including one supporting a border wall and advocating for the withholding of federal funding for sanctuary cities like their host city, which is suing the Trump administration over its attempts to pull back police grants.
But for many, the camaraderie of a weekend spent around like-minded women was enough: “I realize I’m not alone in my values, in my activism,” said Lori Apple, of Lewisville, N.C. “You can come to this and learn you’re qualified, that you can run for office, and that there are a lot of us out there.”