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San Francisco Chronicle: Donald Trump candidacy’s upside for women

October 29, 2016

San Francisco Chronicle: Donald Trump candidacy’s upside for women

By Joe Garofoli

It is hard to see this right now through the toxic haze of this 2016 presidential race, but there is something positive on the horizon for women — and ultimately, for all of us. And, in a sick way, we should thank Donald Trump for making it possible.

Yes, something positive will come out of Trump’s litany of odious comments about women — from mocking fellow Republican Carly Fiorina’s looks to a former Miss Universe’s weight. Something game-changing will rise from hearing the “Access Hollywood” recording where he boasts about using his celebrity to sexually assault women. And we will someday be in a better place for hearing Trump brag about the size of his junk during a GOP primary debate.

In the short term, all that misogyny is expected to inspire the largest gender gap of support in political history, as the latest Reuters poll shows Hillary Clinton with a 10-point lead among women, more than double from the week before. And should those votes help make Clinton the first female president in the nation’s history, that will quicken the pace of the long-term positivity — eventually.

“I believe it is going to plant seeds all over in young women and girls about the importance of public service and running for office,” Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily’s List, told me over coffee the other day in San Francisco. “I think it’s going to change the number of women running for office in a very, very big way.”

Yes, that’s not surprising coming from the leader of Emily’s List — the 31-year-old organization that supports Democratic, pro-abortion-rights female candidates across the country. (“Emily” is an acronym for “early money is like yeast” — as in early money in a campaign attracts other donors later). Schriock is tight with Clinton — she campaigned with her Friday in Iowa and was on the short list to run her campaign. But the dynamic she is describing is about something that will happen long after next week’s election.

Foreseeing the potential of perhaps electing the first female president, Emily’s List started prepping two years ago for this election day. It raised and spent $60 million this year — up from $43 million in 2008. It endorsed 55 candidates this year, compared with 43 women in 2008.

“If we’re going to have this moment where we might actually elect the first woman president, then let’s get as many women on the ballot as possible,” Schriock said, looking back on the organization’s thinking. “If there’s a wave, we will be the beneficiaries, and if not, we will just keep on pushing.”

Then Trump dominated the GOP field and got the party’s nomination. And then the “Access Hollywood” recording dropped. A political moment mushroomed into a larger, cultural one.

Want to silence a Republican? Ask about Trump uproar

“We have this moment,” Schriock said, “where we have the Republican nominee bragging about sexual assault, saying his accusers are liars and he’s going to sue them.”

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had women — from their 20s to their mid-50s — tell me how often the same thing has happened to them. Most never mentioned it to anybody but their closest friends. Suddenly, they felt a cultural permission to begin to speak out on something they kept hidden inside them for years.

“Women are like, ‘That’s it. We need to start talking about it, telling our stories and make it known to the world,’” Schriock said. “And particularly to the men in their lives — (tell them) that this stuff happens. It’s not just this weird Donald Trump. It happens a million times a day.”

“I think this is a really important cultural moment for the women’s movement, but also for our nation,” she said.

Speaking out is only the first cultural barrier to fall. The next one will happen when — and if — Trump carries through on his promise to sue the women who have accused him of unwanted advances.

“As Trump publicly punishes and banishes the accusers — if there is a public benefit to this — it’s that (others will see that) this is what happens all of the time,” Schriock said. “This is what happens in courtrooms. This is how those who perpetrate these acts get out of it by making the victim look like she deserved it or it was her fault or she was lying or she was just trying to get attention. This is just how it works.”

The downside is that this attitude that’s ingrained into our culture is one of the reasons it’s hard to recruit women to run for higher office. Few people know that better than House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the only woman ever to serve as House speaker.

When the San Francisco Democrat was first elected in 1987, there were 23 women in Congress— out of 435 — 12 Democrats and 11 Republicans. Now there are 65 Democratic and 22 Republican women in the House.

Pelosi is constantly on the road, raising money and recruiting candidates. During this cycle, Pelosi has raised $127.7 million, holding 324 events in 50 cities. And she often hears the same story from women she’s trying to recruit to public service:

“They say, ‘Why would I subject myself to what you go through?’” Pelosi told me Friday during an appearance before The Chronicle’s Editorial Board. If they have the choice of leading a university or a big corporate job, running for higher office falls short — largely because of the lack of civility in campaigns.

“The civility is a big thing because people have their kids coming home from school crying because of what some ad on TV said about their mother that had nothing to do with reality,” Pelosi said. “We have to increase the level of civility in campaigns and lower the role of money, and I guarantee you we will elect more women.”

But that has to happen fast because there’s an urgency — particularly in California — to build up a pipeline of women running for office. Having a term-limited Legislature means that even more female candidates need to be recruited than in other states.

The picture is growing ominous in California when it comes to federal office. Of the 62 Democratic women in the House, 18 are from California. The challenge: half of them are older than 70, including the 76-year-old Pelosi. “The pipeline really matters here,” Schriock said.

But building that pipeline will take time. I asked Schriock when my daughters — who are 16 and 18 years old — will be able to see a Congress, or even a Democratic caucus, that is half female. She paused. Maybe 10 or 15 years.

She smiled and said: “About when they’re ready to run.”