The women who won’t march: ‘silenced’ conservatives vow to stay home

Conservative women are sticking to their beliefs ahead of the inauguration and that means skipping the Womens March, where they dont feel welcome

For Mindy Finn, Saturdays are cherished times to be with her family. The Republican political operative and founder of Empowered Women, a not-for-profit group focused on inspiring women in civic life, relishes the slower pace after a long workweek. This Saturday will be just like any other: shell eat breakfast with her husband and two young boys, maybe take her kids to the park, and definitely sneak in some shuteye during their naptime.

Carrie Lukas also plans to spend Saturday with her family. Lukas, the managing director of the conservative policy group the Independent Womens Forum, will take her daughter to a writing contest, and then take the rest of her kids five in all to visit their grandparents.

And Sarah Isgur Flores, who served as deputy campaign manager to the Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, will spend the day clad in cozy pajamas, snuggling up with her cat and catching up on Sherlock episodes.

One thing they all know for sure? Though they all live in or near Washington, they wont join the thousands of women descending on the capital for the Womens March on Washington.

The marchs organizers are planning for some 200,000 people: women of all races, creeds and sexual orientations, their partners, their kids.

But conservative women though divided during the campaign on their support for Donald Trump wont march. Theyll be on the sidelines, praying that their unexpected standard bearer will actually deliver on their long policy wishlist.

The march isnt called the Leftwing Womens March on Washington, or the Democratic Womens March. Its billed as simply the Womens March on Washington. But despite its intersectional, all-inclusive mission, prominent conservative women say the event doesnt represent all women particularly, well, themselves.

Its going to be a whole bunch of people standing up and saying, Youre not a real woman if you dont agree with us, says Flores, who works as the spokeswoman for Jeff Sessions, Donald Trumps pick for attorney general. But the great part about being a conservative woman is that we know who we are, we know what our beliefs are, and we know how many women agree with us.

Throughout the campaign, Trump has flouted long-held GOP positions on healthcare, taxation and more. In response, those who disagree with Trump have had to differentiate themselves as conservatives rather than Republicans. Were not a Republican organization, Lukas tells me of IWF. Were a conservative organization that stands for certain principles. Not for people, nor for a party.

As Trump continues to change his mind on core policy views, conservative women are sticking to their own beliefs more than ever. Those beliefs are at odds with the unmistakably liberal platform of the Womens March, which advocates for gender equality, reproductive freedom, paid family leave, an end to police brutality, among other stances.

Conservative women, meanwhile, have more modest aims: theyre hoping for another rightwing justice to fill Antonin Scalias long-vacant supreme court seat, one who is unabashedly opposed to abortion rights. They wholly embrace the Republican effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, Obamas signature healthcare law. And their policy goals arent confined to stereotypical womens issues.

Anti-abortion activists on the steps of the supreme court. Photograph: Pete Marovich/Getty Images

I find it condescending, insulting and a little demeaning, Tomi Lahren, the 24-year-old firebrand host of Tomi on The Blaze TV, says of that buzzy term. To think that women only care about abortion, and birth control, and paid maternity leave, I think, does a disservice to a lot of conservative women that care about immigration and national security, and Common Core, and the other things that are facing our nation and facing our families.

Trumps spotty record as a conservative, along with his seeming disregard for democratic norms, hasnt assured conservative women that hell be their champion far from it. And his open boasts of sexual assault dont make him an easy person to unite behind. But, after eight years of a president who challenged their core beliefs, Trump at least claims the Republican party mantle. And in Washington, institutional power is the key to passing any serious policy agenda.

Im sure that there may be women who are just secretly and behind closed doors shaking their heads, and thinking, I cant believe this guy actually just said that, please dont hold any more press conferences, says Ronnee Schreiber, a professor at San Diego State University and author of Righting Feminism: Conservative Women and American Politics, referring to Trumps bizarre tangle with the media last week.

But national conservative organizations, she predicts, will look past that. What theyre going to do is say, Hey, lets celebrate the fact that, for example, were a pro-life organization and we have a president who claims to be pro-life. Now, we have a chance to actually get an appointment to the supreme court whos pro-life.

Trumps position on abortion rights, like most of his beliefs, is far from set in stone. But until he proves his mettle in office or fails spectacularly, the conservative women I spoke with told me that even if they didnt support him during the campaign, they were hoping for the best.

I think its horrible when the president-elect says something thats offensive about women, says Lukas, who, though she would have preferred many of the other 16 GOP candidates who initially entered the primaries, ended up voting for Trump. But then I look at things like the possibility for healthcare reform, and Im super excited about that. For tax reform. Tax reform and the problems with starting businesses and job creation, thats a huge womens issue. And I feel very optimistic about that.

Mr Trump is not a conservative, she continues. He doesnt come from the conservative movement, the policy movement that Ive always been a part of. But Ive got hope.

A bunch of sore losers throwing a tantrum

Mindy Finn, who was the running mate of the US independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin. Photograph: George Frey/Getty Images

Just after the election, in the Final Thoughts segment of her eponymous TV show, Tomi Lahren went on a tear against anti-Trump protesters. Or, as she called them, a bunch of sore losers throwing a tantrum.

President-elect Donald Trump has opened his arms to all Americans, Lahren chided. No one is asking you to bow at his feet. But your protests and tantrums arent doing anything for this country. You have every right to do it. But youre just kind of making fools of yourselves at this point.

This Saturday, Lahren will be in Washington she will travel from Dallas to attend the inauguration of Trump, whose campaign she advised on social media starting late last summer.

I dont wake up every day and remind myself that Im a woman. I know that Im a woman, she says, charging that theres been a concerted effort by Democrats to silence and quiet conservative women, or to diminish conservative women, or to repeal the woman card of conservative women.

For a moment last week, it seemed that the Womens March organizers had reached across the yawning political chasm to include a major plank of conservatism. On Friday, the March announced that one of its hundreds of organizational partners would be the New Wave Feminists, an anti-abortion group based in Texas. Intersectional feminism is the future of feminism and of this movement, one of the events co-chairs told the Atlantic. We must not just talk about feminism as one issue, like access to reproductive care.

Backlash was swift. The feminist writer Roxane Gay tweeted her indignation: Intersectional feminism does not include a pro-life agenda. Thats not how it works! The right to choose is a fundamental part of feminism. By Monday, the organizers had backtracked, releasing a statement clarifying that the Marchs platform is pro-choice, and that has been our stance from day one.

When I talked to Lukas before the flap, she said the exclusion of conservative women was par for the course for progressives. Im looking at their little website now, she said, reading the marchs stated mission: Recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country. Well, maybe. She laughed hollowly. Maybe they think that. But they sure dont think that diversity of thought is of any interest. They sure arent interested in people who dont support their political agenda.

Flores agrees. This leftwing playbook is down to one page, she says, getting into feminazi character: If you dont vote our way, we will call you a racist, we will call you a misogynist, we will call you anti-woman. And if you are a woman, then were going to call you a traitor, and were going to say youre not a real woman. Youre not the right type of woman. Those charges, she adds, can be frustrating. But she takes heart that this cycle despite the overwhelming pressure to support Hillary Clinton on the basis of shared gender it didnt succeed.

That weaponized feminism, she says, is losing its force.

Its time for all women to identify what is truly important

The first time Mindy Finn ran for office, it made national news. In October, she jumped into the race for vice-president on a long-shot independent ticket with the former CIA counterterrorism officer Evan McMullin, hoping to serve as a conservative foil to Trumps distinct brand of erratic Republican ideals. The pair didnt get far, failing to even make the ballot in many states.

But Finn, a veteran GOP operative who has worked for George W Bush and Mitt Romney, isnt backing down from defending her conservative, #NeverTrump values. Along with her former running mate, Finn plans to launch an advocacy effort that will catalyze a new conservative movement to defend the constitution against Trump.

Its time for all women and I can say this as a conservative to identify what is truly important, and to guard those principles and those values, and advocate for them regardless of who is president, or what party is in power, she says. Its a country over party moment.

Finn hopes Trump puts the publics interest ahead of his own. But after a long campaign of quite the opposite, she says shes skeptical of his capacity to respect democratic norms. Under Trump, conservative women may be pleased with cabinet appointments, supreme court justices, executive actions. But theres also an underlying fear that America as we know it will cease to exist.

President Bush, you could disagree with him on a series of things, she says. But I think people would say he respects human rights and has a strong moral compass. And thats not something that I am confident that we can say about Donald Trump.

Ultimately, Trumps ever-shifting policy whims dont dictate what conservative women believe. And despite the identity crises, Lahren says now is a pivotal time for right-of-center women.

Now, our first female president can be someone thats not scandal-ridden. Can be someone that didnt have a rap sheet a mile long. Can be someone that was not investigated by the FBI, she says. So I think its actually an exciting moment for women.

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