“This is an issue that’s completely manufactured,” Oakley said. “There are certainly folks who have daughters who are truly college-bound — and then there are parents who, let’s be honest, think that their daughters are. The time has passed for these arguments, and they’re going to fall apart really quickly.”
National Review op-ed last month.
“Every once in a while there’s an issue that has people frustrated even outside of the culture wars, and I think there is probably political grounds to be gained in the suburbs if Republicans across the spectrum can approach this correctly,” he said.
“Republicans are proud to have doubled our LGBT support over the last four years, and we will continue to grow our big tent by supporting measures that promote fairness and effectively balance protections for LGBT Americans and those with deeply held religious beliefs,” Merritt said in an emailed statement.
“This is what Democrats do so well that Republicans don’t,” said Terry Schilling, executive director of the American Principles Project, a group that launched anti-transgender ads about women’s sports during the 2019 Kentucky gubernatorial race and 2020 general election. “They bring up the statistic of violence against transgender people — and you look at the numbers, and it’s, like, 40 people.” (An HRC report published last November identified at least 27 instances in which transgender or gender non-confirming people were killed in 2020).
But conservative operatives who are hoping that Republicans will maintain a focus on women’s sports in the coming months claimed that they are simply adopting an approach first used by their political opponents.
The issue has been percolating at the state level since early 2020, when several Republican-led states began pushing for bills to limit or ban the participation of transgender athletes in women’s sports. But the recent attention is part of a sharper focus on cultural issues that conservatives believe could resonate with the swing-state suburbanites whose support the GOP hemorrhaged last fall. have struggled to identify cases in their own states where an issue arose over a transgender athlete.
Meanwhile, Stutzman warned that current figures who are talking about transgender issues — including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who hung a sign outside her Capitol Hill office last week that read, “There are TWO genders: MALE & FEMALE. Trust the science!” — have failed to introduce “a nuanced perspective” and run the risk of making the GOP appear generally transphobic.
Haley accused Biden of “paving the way for a federal mandate that all schools receiving federal funding let biological men play on women’s sports teams” after he signed an executive order to curtail discrimination against LGBTQ people in healthcare, housing and schools at the beginning of his term. “The order was framed as a matter of transgender rights. But really, it was an attack on women’s rights.”
The topic already appears to be gaining attention among GOP candidates who are looking to make inroads with suburban voters while also burnishing their conservative credentials. In a fundraising email sent to her supporters this week, Ohio Senate candidate Jane Timken, a staunch Trump supporter and former state GOP chair, accused Democrats of pursuing “a mission to create a completely UNFAIR playing field for young girls and women.”
Republicans are laying claim to an unlikely mantle: the party of women’s sports.
One potential roadblock for Republicans who have latched onto women’s sports as a new wedge issue — from Haley and Trump to Sens. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley — is that a growing number of GOP voters support nondiscrimination laws and protections for LGBTQ Americans. For example, a poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute last year found that 61 percent of Republicans supported nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans, up 5 percentage points from the year prior.
“I hear from mothers all the time who are getting up at the crack of dawn to take their daughters to swim practice or attending all-weekend track meets, and they do not want biological men competing on their daughters’ teams. They know that it would be detrimental to their daughters’ abilities to achieve scholarships and recognition,” Nance added.
Republicans aren’t unanimously behind the strategy. Two sources familiar with the matter said Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel was part of a coalition of Trump advisers who encouraged the former president not to wade into transgender issues during his reelection campaign. And in response to a POLITICO inquiry over whether the RNC has any plans for messaging around women’s sports, spokesperson Mandi Merritt offered no indication that the committee would join Republican lawmakers and governors in their criticism of trans-inclusive sports policies.
Eager to find a winning culture war issue, former President Donald Trump and other GOP leaders are increasingly touting themselves as champions of women in sports by pushing back against President Joe Biden’s efforts to expand transgender rights.
“This is the wedge issue that will bring suburban women back to the polls and increase their support for Republicans, and Republicans would be foolish not to lean into it,” said Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, a socially conservative group that has been privately urging Republicans to take on the subject since last year.