On Tuesday, Republican candidates for the presidency took the stage once again in the fourth GOP presidential debate. This time, they found themselves in the very birthplace of their party: the state of Wisconsin. For the most part, the debate focused on what it was supposed to — the economy. But still, certain viewers couldn't help but notice that there was a prominent issue clearly missing from the discussion — women's rights. In fact, one tweet was enough to sum up the GOP's views on women's rights, both as they pertain to Tuesday's debate and beyond.
Tuesday's debate, which was sponsored by Fox Business and The Wall Street Journal, was supposed to focus first and foremost on the economy. And for the most part, the candidates did just that. John Kasich talked about balancing the budget, Donald Trump vowed not to raise the minimum wage, and Carly Fiorina proclaimed that we need to repeal the Affordable Care Act as a way to bolster small businesses.
But economic issues are never just economic issues. For instance, in talking about tax reform, Marco Rubio called for a "pro-family tax code," as a way to link traditional values to the economy. Similarly, Rand Paul and Rubio got into a mini-debate of their own over the validity of increasing military spending, bringing up dual issues of spending and defense. Don't get me wrong; I think these are worthwhile topics (particularly the defense angle). But there's still something missing here. It's possible to find an economic angle on most issues, but if you're a candidate for president in the GOP, Tuesday's debate shows that you probably won't go out of your way to link women's rights or women's health issues with the economy. At least one keen Twitter user noticed this:
The need for more conversation about women's rights is something that you'd think the Republican Party would understand by now. Conservative candidates have been plagued by accusations that they perpetuate the "war on women" election after election. Even if it doesn't cause them to lose, the phrase seems to have become pervasive enough to cause some waves. What's interesting is that there still doesn't seem to be a proactive approach to the question of women's rights on the Republican side.
In a way, Tuesday's debate highlighted the lack of a proactive stance on women's rights. Sure, the focus was meant to be the economy, but if the candidates on stage could get away with not talking about women's rights or women's health issues — which happen to have serious economic impacts, by the way — then they weren't going to bring it up. Meanwhile, they found many ways to link their pet issues to the topic at hand.
Just a matter of weeks ago, in another debate on a different stage, Republican candidates couldn't stop talking about defunding Planned Parenthood. I'm not saying that's the economic issue we want them to associate with women's rights, but it shows that there are indeed angles to be explored, and that Republicans can foster a lively debate about them. Let's talk about paid maternity leave, for instance. No debate leading up to a presidential election should ignore issues that define life for more than half of the country.