PHILADELPHIA — While Republicans used their convention to highlight the war on terror, Democrats took advantage of this week’s political gathering to highlight a different conflict — the war on women.
Although they’re no longer calling it that.
Even as speaker after speaker accused Republicans of being insufficiently feminist, the phrase “war on women” was noticeably absent, apparently consigned to the ash heap of history after a four-year run that met with mixed results.
Still, there were no shortage of attacks on Republicans — and presidential nominee Donald Trump in particular — on everything from pay to abortion to birth control as Democrats made it clear they plan to leverage those issues in an effort to fire up female voters in November.
“They don’t respect women. They don’t trust women. They want to control women,” Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily’s List, said in an address that called Republicans “panicking” and “desperate.” “They’re afraid of the change we bring, the progress we make, when we get a chance to lead. And they’re terrified of Hillary Clinton.”
Perhaps the most memorable line came from Lena Dunham, star of the TV show “Girls,” who announced that “according to Donald Trump, my body is probably like a 2.”
“I am a pro-choice, feminist, sexual-assault survivor with a chronic reproductive illness,” said Ms. Dunham. “Donald Trump and his party think I should be punished for exercising my constitutional rights. His rhetoric about women takes us back to a time when we were meant to be beautiful and silent.”
The women’s vote, always important for Democrats, may be more crucial than ever in 2016. Polls show Mrs. Clinton leading with women voters but trailing among men in a gender gap that could be wider than any in recent presidential-election history.
Judging by this week’s convention speeches, Democrats are prepared to ramp up the “war on women” offensive to previously unseen levels.
Certainly Mr. Trump has given them ammunition. Several speakers accused the Republican presidential nominee of describing breastfeeding as “disgusting” and making disparaging comments about working mothers.
“We all know how Donald Trump talks about women,” said Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, New Mexico Democrat. “He’s suggested that working mothers aren’t ‘giving 100 percent’ at their jobs. He calls breastfeeding ‘disgusting.’ He thinks that equal pay for women ‘gets away from capitalism.’”
The breastfeeding comment came during a 2011 lawsuit in which he feuded with an opposing lawyer after she indicated she would begin pumping breast milk in front of other lawyers in the middle of a 2011 deposition, according to CNN.
In 2011, he said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that the drawback with hiring working mothers in general was that, “She’s not giving me 100 percent. She’s giving me 84 percent, and 16 percent is going towards taking care of children,” Time magazine reported.
Mr. Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, also came under fire for his conservative record, which includes efforts to cut off taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood.
“I have a message for Donald Trump and Mike Pence: We are not going back to the dark days when women died in back alleys! We are never going back! We’re moving forward with Hillary Clinton!” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat.
Mr. Trump, meanwhile, responded at a press conference Wednesday that he would welcome a woman president, just not Mrs. Clinton.
“I want to see a woman become president, but it can’t be her. She’s a disaster. She’s a disaster,” he said.
He has also chided Democrats this week for making little mention of hot-button issues such as Islamic State-driven terrorism, trade agreements, and recent shootings of officers by gunmen angry over black men killed by police.
“Why aren’t Democrats speaking about ISIS, bad trade deals, broken borders, police and law and order. The Republican Convention was great,” he said on Twitter.
Democrats began employing the “war on women” strategy in the 2010 congressional elections, but it appeared to wear out its welcome in 2014, most glaringly in Colorado, where Democratic Sen. Mark Udall lost reelection after waging a gender-heavy campaign.
Former DNC and Clinton campaign spokesman Mo Elleithee may have sounded the death knell on “war on women” as a catchphrase when he said in December that it was “overly incendiary” and “not true.”
“I do not believe that there’s any sort of Republican war on women,” Mr. Elleithee said at a Georgetown University speech as reported by InsideSources. “I hate when people say that, just as I hate when Republicans say that there’s a Democratic war on religion or the military.”
The name may be gone but the war goes on, as evidenced by the Democrats’ doubling down on abortion. The platform committee added for the first time a plank calling for the elimination of the Hyde Amendment, which forbids federal funding of abortion.
Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, made news by using her convention speech to talk about her own abortion, which is believed to be a first.
“Together, Donald Trump and Mike Pence have united to form the ‘make misogyny great again’ ticket,” she said.