Is sexism the Republican Party’s big-tent strategy? Republican Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida, appearing recently on the right-wing network Newsmax, dismissed the party’s losses among women voters by insisting, in language laced with stereotypes, that Black and Hispanic men would cross over to vote Republican in their place.
“This is the blue-collar realignment of the Republican Party, and what I can tell you is for every Karen we lose, there’s a Julio and a Jamal ready to sign up for the MAGA movement,” Gaetz told Newsmax. “That bodes well for our ability to be more diverse and to be more durable as we head into not only the rest of the primary contests but also the general election.”
Gaetz’s comments reveal something about an emerging Republican belief: misogyny and homophobia, especially if aimed at the stereotype of an educated, liberal, middle-class white woman (a “Karen”), can help the party win over Black and Hispanic men with sexist views. As ridiculous as Gaetz may sound, the idea that Trumpian masculinity might win over a more ethnically diverse constituency is not new. In 2020, the New York Times reported that Democrats feared Trump’s “macho appeal” to Hispanic men.
In the aftermath of their 2012 presidential-election loss, Republicans famously commissioned an “autopsy” that urged the party to be more inclusive to women and religious and ethnic minorities. Trump’s candidacy took the party in the opposite direction, but that was less him leading the party than following its base where they wanted to go. Trump’s star rose in the Republican Party as he demonstrated his willingness to embrace racist conspiracy theories about the first Black president, and to channel the anti-immigrant sentiment that sank George W. Bush’s attempt to reform the immigration system. Trump nevertheless made gains among Black and Hispanic voters in the 2020 presidential election, a dynamic that now lends support to the idea that the party can win over a pivotal number of nonwhite voters—and specifically nonwhite men—without becoming more inclusive in policy or rhetoric.
Since the Great Society, the Democratic Party’s identity has been that of a multiracial, multicultural coalition uniting to achieve things together that they would be unable to alone. Antidiscrimination law, for example, has an obvious constituency among women and minority voters, a coalition that Republicans would benefit from dividing. This vision was memorably articulated by Jesse Jackson at the 1984 Democratic convention, in a speech where he wove an extended metaphor of America as a large quilt made up of people of different backgrounds.
“America is not like a blanket—one piece of unbroken cloth, the same color, the same texture, the same size. America is more like a quilt: many patches, many pieces, many colors, many sizes, all woven and held together by a common thread. The white, the Hispanic, the Black, the Arab, the Jew, the woman, the Native American, the small farmer, the businessperson, the environmentalist, the peace activist, the young, the old, the lesbian, the gay, and the disabled make up the American quilt,” Jackson told the convention. “Even in our fractured state, all of us count and fit somewhere. We have proven that we can survive without each other. But we have not proven that we can win and make progress without each other. We must come together.”
Jackson referred to this as a “Rainbow Coalition,” a term originally associated with an alliance of left-wing anti-racist movement groups in Chicago. If the idea of the Rainbow Coalition was one in which people from very different walks of life would band together in solidarity, what Republicans have in mind is something different, a diverse coalition of people who band together in their shared contempt for others: a Rainbow Coalition of Haters.
The mortar of this would-be coalition, as Gaetz’s rhetoric implies, is traditional ideas about gender, expressed in hostility toward women and abhorrence of LGBTQ Americans. Gender traditionalism, defined as holding strict beliefs about gender roles, does not necessarily manifest as opposition to equal rights for those who do not adhere to its dictates. One can hold traditional beliefs about gender for religious or ideological reasons and still acknowledge or support the rights of those who do not.
Opposition to those rights, however, is inarguably a big part of the Republican policy agenda, which includes abortion bans and anti-LGBTQ legislation. All over the country, Republicans have assembled a system of state force and surveillance to restrict abortion, passed laws barring teachers from discussing LGBTQ identity in the classroom, and banned gender-affirming care for minors despite the fact that most mainstream American medical organizations support offering such care.
Unlike white supremacy, traditional ideas about gender are widely held by people across not only ethnic and racial lines but gender lines as well. The indifference to or, worse, vicarious thrill that some Trump supporters got from watching Trump seem to escape any consequences for making sexist remarks, cheating on his wives, and admitting to sexual assault was not limited to white people or men. Some people may have supported him because of such behavior, others despite it, but either way it was not a deal-breaker for millions.
Trump’s opposition to abortion rights and antidiscrimination law, combined with his outright contempt for prominent women who drew his wrath, animated people who held narrow ideas about women’s proper role in society alongside those who harbored sexist resentments for personal or ideological reasons. One woman voter highlighted on The Bulwark’s Focus Group podcast, explaining why she would not support a woman candidate for president, said, “I don’t feel as though a woman belongs in the presidential seat … We think with our heart mostly, over mind, and that’s not what we need right now.”
There is also a larger and more multiethnic audience sympathetic toward such beliefs as compared with, say, overt white supremacy, to which public opinion is nearly universally opposed. The public consensus against white supremacy does not mean that everyone agrees on what is racist and what is not, however. Similarly, although public opinion is overwhelmingly in favor of gender equality, that consensus breaks down when it comes to specific public-policy issues or what should be done to address gender discrimination. Gender traditionalism’s larger, more diverse constituency helps explain the GOP’s obsessive focus on demonizing trans people, despite Americans’ lack of interest in the topic (the fact that they believe it is a winning issue doesn’t make it one, at least, not so far).
This is what Gaetz might have been referring to when he talked about trading “Karen” for “Julio” and “Jamal.” Black, Hispanic, and Asian voters are more likely than white voters in general to support nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people. But they tend to be to the right of white Democrats on such issues. As Pew found in a 2022 survey, “White adults tend to be more likely than Black, Hispanic and Asian adults to express support for laws and policies that would restrict the rights of transgender people or limit what schools can teach about gender identity. But among Democrats, White adults are often less likely than other groups to favor such laws and policies, particularly compared with their Black and Hispanic counterparts.”
A 2023 PerryUndem survey found that while 90 percent of Americans said they “believe in equality for women,” sexist attitudes persist beneath the surface, with large numbers of people disagreeing that, for example, husbands should be prosecuted for raping their wives.
Nevertheless, that survey also showed that although white men were most likely to agree with statements like society already has “full equality for women” or sexism and misogyny are “small problems in society,” fairly large percentages of Black, Hispanic, and Asian men agreed with such sentiments as well.
Although the numbers varied some depending on the statement, large and roughly similar percentages of Black, Hispanic, and Asian men agreed with statements like “I’d be uncomfortable if someone thought I was gay,” or “I’m more comfortable with women having more traditional roles in society, such as caring for children and family,” or “women are too easily offended.” That means there is a potentially meaningful audience—one that Republicans don’t usually reach—for the kind of sexist, homophobic, or anti-trans rhetoric that has become a staple of right-wing content in streaming videos, podcasts, and social media. A significant obstacle remains the fact that many of the figures who express such views also share overtly racist beliefs about people of color, a dynamic that has prevented Republicans from making inroads among nonwhite voters in the past.
People can agree with the principle of equality in the abstract, while still harboring prejudices in practice. And the biggest differences on gender equality in the survey were partisan; Democrats regardless of gender are still far more likely to support equality for women than Republicans regardless of gender both in the abstract and on policy questions such as abortion and antidiscrimination law. Among Black, Hispanic, and Asian men, support for legalized abortion in all or most cases hovered around 70 percent, compared with 57 percent among white men. But that still leaves fairly large percentages of nonwhite voters whom the GOP might attract with its opposition to abortion.
The strategy of using social conservatism to peel off Black and Hispanic Democrats has been tried and failed before. But the recent rise of professional misogynist influencers, whose business model is exploiting men’s insecurities in order to persuade them to empty their pockets, and the underlying economic and political factors that led to them having an audience in the first place, raise the possibility that things could be different this time around.
Republicans see the persistence of such views across racial and ethnic lines as a growth opportunity, a way to expand their base of support beyond the core of white Christian conservatives they have traditionally relied upon. I can’t tell you whether that strategy will work, but it is not quite as idiotic as Gaetz made it sound.