John Feehery: Speaking Engagements

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Listen to Your Wife

Posted on February 15, 2012


In the afterglow of Valentine’s Day, I thought I would pay homage to the real deciders in this coming election:  Wives.

White men cast the deciding votes in Republican Primaries.

White women, more specifically white married women, decide General elections.

It was white married women who put President Obama in office.  They backed George Bush over John Kerry.  They narrowly backed Bush over Gore.  They backed Clinton over Dole, and Clinton over the other Bush.  And they backed Bush over Dukakis and Reagan over Mondale, and Reagan over Carter.

As any married man knows, the wife is the ultimate decider.

And if momma ain’t happy, nobody is happy.

White married women, after falling in love with Barack Obama, fell out of love with him in 2010.

The question is whom will they love in this coming election.

Republicans thought that Sarah Palin was going to be their closer in 2008, but her pick backfired with that key demographic.

White married women didn’t think she was a credible candidate, according to the polls, and that was part of the reason they swung for Obama.  It didn’t help that John McCain appeared so out of touch, so cranky and so old compared to the junior Senator from Illinois.

McCain didn’t understand that women vote.  It is unclear if he listened much to his wife.

Bush, on the other hand, seemed to tailor his campaign message specifically for his wife.  In his first campaign, he talked up education, something that must have appealed to the former librarian in Mrs. Bush.  In his second campaign, he told his wife that he was going to keep the nation safe, and that appealed not only to Laura Bush but to married women all over the country.

The question today is what appeals to the white married woman in 2012.

Economic security is always top of mind.  Getting her husband out of the house and into a job is very, very important.

Education is important.  Can her kids get into a decent school?  Are the schools teaching my kids the right values?  How are we going to afford college?

Personal security, especially safety for the kids.   She doesn’t want her kids bullied, either in the classroom or on the Internet.  And she is worried about crime.

Since married women live longer, they are worried about their own retirement security.  What about my nest egg?  Will Social Security and Medicare be there for me?

Fairness?  Maybe, but only if it is fighting for fairness for my family.  Married women don’t begrudge rich people.  They are fascinated by them.  So, when the President bashes the rich, he needs to be careful.

Practicality dominates.  Having a practical agenda is important to appealing to white married women.  Most married women who live harried lives, having to shuffle the kids to school, get to work and vainly find that Nirvana known as the work-life balance, don’t have time for ideological discussions.

Yes, they find all of that discussion about Constitutional conservatism amusing, but they want to know the bottom line.  How will it make their lives better?

The top Republican candidates have to be smarter about how they message to white married women.

Newt, to his credit, understands the importance of white married women, which is why he always talks about Callista.   I actually think he does listen to his wife and uses her as a sounding board.  That is why Newt tends to talk in more practical terms (even if some his ideas are kind of wacky).

I doubt Santorum runs much of his stuff by his wife.  He has said some awfully polarizing things that simply don’t play well with the bulk of white, married women.

Romney should play the best with white married women.  He is certainly not a zealot on the cultural issues, and his strategic ambiguity could be helpful in a general election.  But he has to get a better message on how his plans will help improve the economic and personal security of America’s middle class.

It is awfully easy to play to the men in the primaries and forget who really rules the roost in the general election.   The leading Republican candidates better start listening to their collective wives if they actually want to beat Obama in the Fall.