With a potentially historic gender gap shaping up in the White House race between Joe Biden — the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate — and President Donald Trump, Republican strategist Sarah Longwell asked two Republican U.S. House of Representatives candidates to square the gendered backlash to the president with the record number of women competing in House races. 

Longwell, who does not support Trump and is behind Republican efforts to elect Biden, asked congressional candidates Valerie Ramirez Mukherjee and Beth Van Duyne about their House races in Illinois and Texas, respectively, and whether Trump’s issues with women portends a larger issue for the party. 

“There’s this dominant narrative about how women are abandoning the Republican Party, and it’s true to some degree … yet the Republican Party has seen a record number of women running for office,” Longwell said to open The 19th Represents Summit conversation. 

“On the one hand, it seems like women are saying no to the Republican Party. On the other hand, they’re running in historic numbers. Why do you think that is?” Longwell asked. 

Van Duyne, a former mayor of Irving, Texas, who is running in the state’s 24th District, said that party leaders made an effort to recruit more women after the 2018 midterms saw a historic influx of Democratic women to the House but only one new Republican woman. 

“I think the Republican Party has realized when you look in the mirror, the reflection is not necessarily what you see in the rest of the country,” Van Duyne said, referring to the fact that the Republicans in the House are overwhelmingly male and White.

Ramirez Mukherjee, who is running for a House seat in the Chicago suburbs, said after joining the Republican Party in the 1990s, recent years made her wonder whether the brand of moderatism she embraced had gone “extinct.” She believes moderate, down-ballot candidates such as herself will appeal to women voters even if Trump does not. 

“I feel like a lot of Republican women have gone into hiding,” Ramirez Mukherjee said. 

“When you look at our electorate, a lot of the women, they’re in that middle, that centrist middle … they used to be center-right, then they chose to go center-left,” she added. “I do think they’re out there, and I do think we have a chance to rebuild and to prove ourselves again, to show who we are.” 

Longwell asked the women whether the Republican Party was moving in the direction of controversial conservative commentator Tucker Carlson instead of moderate Republicans such as Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, and, if so, what that meant for a party that is struggling to retain support from women and gain traction with voters of color. 

Ramirez Mukherjee pointed to “blue state Republicans” such as herself as evidence that moderatism within the party was still alive and well. “This is our chance” to re-establish that Republicans have a big-tent party that can accommodate both “blue state” and “red state” Republicans, she said. 

Van Duyne, who is running in a Republican-leaning district and described the Democratic Party as captured by far-left socialists, rejected the idea that Biden could win Texas, a historically Republican state, saying: “No, absolutely not.”

Van Duyne said that Democratic support of recent racial justice protests, to which Trump has dispatched federal law enforcement in some cases, has turned suburban women off of the Democratic Party and its stances supporting greater restrictions on firearms. 

 “Where [gun control] might have been a conversation point with suburban moms across the district, what I’ve seen is people … who are now going out and purchasing guns for the first time because they’re scared about what’s going on in their own backyard,” Van Duyne said.