Annette Meeks

Wallace, Tom, Star Tribune

What now for GOP? What now for women?

  • Article by: LORI STURDEVANT
  • Star Tribune
  • January 7, 2012 - 4:47 PM

It was only three weeks ago -- honest. Only three weeks ago, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich was riding high in Iowa opinion polls, and I called his old congressional chief of staff, Minnesota's Annette Meeks, for a coffee chat about her old boss.

By the time we finally got together, Newt had finished fourth in Iowa's kickoff caucuses. A fellow Americans were still calling "Rick Who?" had emerged as either the conservative darling or the flavor of the month. And the number of Minnesotans still standing on this year's presidential field had dwindled from the original two to none.

Michele Bachmann, No. 6 in Iowa, woke up Wednesday morning with the good sense to call it quits. Credit her with more grip on political reality than exhibited that same morning by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, No. 5.

Gingrich evidently woke up Wednesday spoiling for a fight. He called the virtual-tie winner in Iowa, Mitt Romney, a "Massachusetts moderate" and the promulgator of "a relentless campaign of falsehoods."

Meeks and I still had plenty to talk about.

She heads the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota, a conservative think tank, and ran for lieutenant governor with Republican Tom Emmer in 2010. She's staying unaligned in the Republican presidential contest. But she knows these players too well to keep silent, and too well to go unheard.

On Gingrich, her former boss: "He's always the smartest guy in the room. That's his biggest blessing and biggest curse.

"He is probably the most creative candidate we have ever had run for president. He draws so much from history, from his vast knowledge of how things work, from his inquisitive mind. He'd be the equivalent of a one-man think tank in the Oval Office. The more difficult a problem is, the more drawn to it Newt is ...

"But self-discipline? That has always been his downfall. The petulant Newt, the angry Newt that we saw [after Iowa's results were known Tuesday night] -- it didn't have to be."

On Rick Santorum, the Iowa phenom, and Mitt Romney: "Santorum did well in Iowa because he made social issues the No. 1 issue. I cannot name any other state in the nation where that's the issue. The issue is jobs and the economy, and those are Romney's strengths."

On Ron Paul: "He's someone you take down, dust off a little, and run him around every four years, but he's not going to be president. He might opt for a third party. He's a terrifically nice fellow, but he's a distraction."

On Bachmann: "Michele deserves credit: She put together an organization from the ground up. This is the first time a conservative woman has done what she did. For a conservative woman, there is no support system for you whatsoever. You're on your own. There is no Good Ol' Girls' network to tap into ... .

"The postfeminist lesson is that there is no one out there who is going to help you. Ronald Reagan became president because he had the drive to get out there and do it himself. That's what Michele Bachmann was on to this time. ... She did all women -- liberal, conservative, independent -- a huge favor, because she was in the arena every single day."

Permit a pause while liberal readers stop guffawing. I know plenty of women who think the only favor Bachmann has ever done them was ending her campaign. Her anti-reproductive-choice, anti-gay-rights, women-submit-to-your-husbands views are heretical in orthodox feminist eyes.

But one need not be a Bachmann fan to have winced when Minnesota Public Radio quoted a Sioux City woman's explanation for switching from Bachmann to Santorum. Too many evangelical Christians, said Linda Holub, "couldn't support a woman for president."

To borrow from the old trope about paranoia: Just because you're a postfeminist doesn't mean that male chauvinists aren't still out to get you.

Several political eons ago, Minnesota's political panoply included something called the GOP Feminist Caucus. Its members marched, suffragette style, for the ill-fated Equal Rights Amendment at the 1980 GOP national convention in Detroit. It disappeared from my reporting radar not long afterward, as some of its leading lights quietly quit politics or switched parties. I've been hearing lately from a new outfit called Voices of Conservative Women. Founded in Minnesota in 2009, it's aiming to go national to help GOP women candidates and trumpet that one can be conservative on economic issues and a feminist, too.

Here's that trope again: Just because you're a liberal doesn't mean you can't be pleased to see it.

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Lori Sturdevant is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist.

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