Column: Republicans' State of the Union response? A woman's place is in the kitchen

A woman’s place is in the kitchen, even if she is a U.S. senator delivering the most important speech of her career.

Intended or not, that was the message conveyed by the GOP’s opposition response to President Biden’s State of the Union address on Thursday, when Alabama‘s Sen. Katie Britt spoke for Republicans from a setting associated with centuries of female servitude.

Sharing the shot with a refrigerator and a fruit basket, the rising GOP star spoke in dramatic, hushed tones about the nightmarish condition of the country. “I just watched President Biden’s State of the Union address from our living room,” she said. “I wish he understood what real families are facing around kitchen tables just like this.”

Yet there was no table or family. Just a shot of Britt, sitting alone, in an overwhelmingly beige kitchen with eerily barren countertops. And the dry-erase message board on the fridge door? Blank.

GOP strategists were likely trying to convey a safe, homey family environment that real Americans could relate to in these troubled times. They have kitchens, after all, unlike fake Americans in blue states, who live in antifa communes and subsist on pressed juice. But the zombie kitchen ploy backfired.

Before Britt even opened her mouth, the rebuttal’s optics fed into widespread criticism that Republicans are turning back the clock on women’s rights and freedoms to June Cleaver times.

A long-held goal for the right was realized in 2022 when the U.S. Supreme Court officially reversed Roe vs. Wade, declaring that the constitutional right to abortion no longer exists. Now abortion is banned in many states, and assumptive GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump has reportedly said he’ll back a 16-week abortion ban if reelected.

It’s an unpopular stance, even among Republican voters, and a subject many have shied away from discussing publicly for fear it will hurt them at the voting booth. It’s no wonder Biden doubled down on his support of reproductive rights Thursday, lambasting Republicans and the Supreme Court in the House chamber for overturning Roe vs. Wade. “My God, what freedoms will you take away next?” he said during a fiery 68-minute speech.

The Keep-Her-in-the-Kitchen messaging — deliberate or otherwise — is also in concert with Trump’s track record with women. Dominating the news this week are Trump’s settlement payout woes to a woman he sexually assaulted, and news around his forthcoming trial involving hush money he allegedly paid to a porn star he was said to have had sex with while his wife was pregnant.

Is it any wonder the GOP is struggling to hold on to the female vote?

Biden won among 55% of the women who voted in 2020, and Trump won 44%, according to data from the Pew Research Center. And now this from a Feb. 1 article on a Quinnipiac poll: More women say they will support Biden over Trump, with 58% going for Biden compared with just 36% for Trump, a 5-percentage-point swing from December.

Choosing a woman to deliver the State of the Union rebuttal speech was no doubt a conscious effort to fix the GOP’s lady problems, and they styled Britt as a nonconfrontational answer to other “colorful” women in the party like Marjorie Taylor Greene.

The 42-year-old rising GOP star wore a understated solid-green blouse, a no-nonsense hairdo and minimal makeup. But the look was so generic, she could have been a nonspecific character in a pharmaceutical ad if only she were gathering flowers at an outdoor market or riding a bike in a sleeveless shirt to celebrate the retreat of her moderate-to-severe plaque psoriasis.

To be fair, delivering the State of the Union opposition address is a thankless job. In 2013, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) nervously sipped bottled water during his rebuttal speech, and the country has never forgotten. Other efforts have been broadcast from a diner and a high school in not-so-subtle attempts to connect with the public.

Perhaps this year’s producers of the opposition speech were going for a cooking-show vibe. Celebrity chefs and cooking competitions cross all matter of political divides, though the writers behind Britt’s address were clearly appealing to the GOP base, with the usual talking points about the southern border, crime at the hands of undocumented immigrants, the threat of communist China, and Biden’s age.

“The American dream has become a nightmare,” Britt said of Biden’s presidency. If the folksy backdrop was meant to represent a safe respite for the liberal maelstrom outside, it failed. Instead it dragged the viewers back to a time when women knew their place — and it was in the kitchen.

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