The First GOP Debate: What It Means for Gender Justice  

By Angel Padilla, Vice President of Strategy & Policy

On August 25 in Milwaukee, WI, the “top” Republican candidates for president took the stage together for the first time, giving millions of Americans their first real look at who these candidates are and what they stand for.  

As it stands, of course, they are all battling for second place. Donald Trump’s stranglehold over the Republican Party continues and it’s hard to imagine this changing before election day 2024. 

Below are some of the key takeaways from the debate and why anyone who cares about democracy and about gender justice should worry. 

Takeaway 1: The debate showcased Republican extremism and its threat to democracy 

While it might seem like the GOP debates might not matter much when the frontrunner doesn’t even bother to participate, they’re important because they show voters where the GOP stands on some of the most important issues of our time, including on gender justice. It matters that most of these candidates would put Donald Trump before the Constitution; it matters that the leading candidates continue to deny that man-made climate change is real; it matters that some are advocating armed conflict with Mexico; it matters that they want to eliminate the Department of Education; it matters that each would further restrict access to abortion, many of them through a national ban.  

The Republican Party is an extreme political party, and their extremism was on full display in Milwaukee.  

Takeaway 2: A national abortion ban is at stake in 2024 

Yes, abortion is always on the ballot: Voters—especially gender justice voters—have understood for years that the ability to nominate a Supreme Court justice has implications for abortion access, as does political control of Congress. However, following the Dobbs decision that overturned the constitutional right to abortion, the Republican Party has made it clear that they will continue to attack abortion access until it is banned nationally.  

Although former Vice President Mike Pence’s position on abortion was the clearest, the fact is there isn’t much daylight between the candidates: Each supports further limiting access to abortion, and the further control over people’s bodies. While Nikki Haley has gotten some positive attention for her response to the abortion question, let’s be clear: she supports a national ban and is just as extreme as the other candidates on that stage.  

The truth is that each of these candidates would sign a national abortion ban if given the opportunity. It’s also perfectly possible for Republicans to do it with only 50 votes in the Senate, since they could easily eliminate the filibuster to pass their agenda. A national abortion ban is a real danger and there’s no reason to believe any of these candidates wouldn’t sign it into law based on the debate in Milwaukee.  

Takeaway 3: Students and teachers aren’t safe 

It’s bad enough that there isn’t a parent in this country who doesn’t worry about the constant threat of gun violence at their child’s school. But the GOP debate also demonstrated that a top priority for these candidates is to target children and their teachers for harassment based on who they are and who they love, while policing what teachers can teach and students can learn. The goal is complete control of our students and teachers, as Governor DeSantis has made clear in Florida by banning books, scholastic topics, and even acknowledgment of personal identities. The GOP is all in on enforcing gender roles in school and shutting down students’ freedom to learn. This vision is one of a less safe environment for students to learn, and because most parents don’t agree with policies like book bans, an erosion of parents’ rights, as well as the rights of students and educators (a workforce made up mostly of women). 

There will be more debates and more opportunities to hear from presidential candidates over the next 14 months. The issues at stake will greatly impact women, families, the LGBTQ+ community, students and teachers. What’s clear so far is that the Republican Party’s positions on a variety of key issues are outside of the mainstream and inconsistent with what a majority of the public wants.  

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