Over the weekend, every Republican running for office suddenly became a feminist expert. It was supremely weird.
After GOP front-runner Donald Trump implied Fox anchor Megyn Kelly was tough during the debate because she had "blood coming out of her wherever," everyone campaigning for president stopped talking about Ronald Reagan for a second and channeled their inner Gloria Steinem.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush defended women at the Southern Baptist Convention, saying, "What Donald Trump said is wrong," and that insulting 53% of the electorate is not how we "win" — wait, are women people or a championship? Wisconsin's Gov. Scott Walker joined the sexism-bashing feminist parade, tweeting, "[T]here's no excuse for Trump's comments. Stand with @MegynKelly." Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee trumpeted Kelly's competence as an anchor, and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham tweeted that Trump's "unrelenting & offensive comments about @MegynKelly puts the @GOP at a crossroads."
Wait, sexism is suddenly dividing the GOP? That's weird, because on Thursday night, it seemed that the one thing uniting the 10 candidates on stage was a consistent disregard for women. Not a single one of them expressed support for women's basic right to choose, and Trump indicated that he would rather shut down the government than use public money to fund Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of reproductive health care in the United States.
Apparently, it's easier for Republicans to stand with one woman than it is to stand with millions of them.
This newfound "solidarity" seems like a bunch of bros walked into a women's studies class and started yelling self-interested female empowerment mantras like, "Hell yeah, feminism! Let's free that nipple!" But those chants only support the bits that benefit them, which is not exactly what being a male ally means.
What was strange wasn't that they were standing with Kelly, who asked Trump about his grotesque history of sexism, which he answered with more sexism in the form of a menstruation crack. It only proves just how much of a chauvinist we already knew he was.
Although Kelly deserves the GOP's sympathy, this isn't about her. This isn't even about women. This is about the Republicans using the most unusual weapon, a feminist lightning rod, to go after the biggest threat to the party: Donald Trump. The least predictable and best polling candidate in the party says he'll run against the Republican nominee as an independent if he must. He's also the epitome of what's wrong with the GOP. He peddles the same sexist positions as his colleagues, but doesn't use the tacit language and agreed-upon messaging the other candidates get away with using.
Republicans are going after Trump on sexism because it's in their self-interest. If the Republican Party really wanted to get serious about the interests of female voters, they should support equal pay, a woman's right to choose and expanding parental leave. This isn't a partisan issue: Conservative women like Texas state Rep. Sarah Davis have cited the Republican defense of individual freedom to support abortion rights. None of the right-wing politicians running for president have championed, let alone mentioned, these issues as part of their platforms. In fact, most have expressed their intention of doing everything in their power to eliminate policies to ensure women have equal footing in American policy. Even RedState Editor-in-Chief Erik Erickson, who ousted Trump from Saturday night's RedState Gathering and extended an invitation to Kelly instead, believes that women shouldn't work, because biology.
Make no mistake, this display does not mean the Republican Party now stands with women. Its candidates are simply using them. If the Republicans want to be knights in shining armor to one woman, they can do the same for all women. But don't hold your breath: Trump and his cronies only care about female voters when it's convenient. The Republicans can crash the women's studies lectures for as long as they want, but we know they'll eventually fail the class, and at this rate, women too.