Amy McGrath, the retired U.S. Marine fighter pilot from Kentucky who is now fighting for a seat in the United States Congress, says she has no fear of conflict — a resolve she is going to need as she goes head to head not only with her Republican opponents, but with the establishment within her own Democratic party.
“I like conflict,” she told the audience at the Women in the World Salon in Washington, D.C., Wednesday night. “It’s why I go on conservative talk radio — it gives me a chance to go to battle again.”
McGrath was responding to conservative columnist Mona Charen, a National Review writer and fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, who was explaining what led her to accuse the Republican Party of hypocrisy at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) — before being booed and escorted out — in spite of “liking being liked.”
“I’m disappointed in people on our side, for being hypocrites about sexual harassers and abusers of women, who are in our party, who are sitting in the White House, who brag about their extramarital affairs, who brag about mistreating women,” Charen told the CPAC audience. “This was a party that was ready to endorse Roy Moore for the Senate in the state of Alabama, even though he was a credibly-accused child molester.
“You cannot claim that you stand for women and put up with that.”
McGrath and Charen were joined onstage by veteran labor organizer, president of the Coalition of Labor Union Women Elise Bryant, in a conversation mediated by journalist Zainab Salbi. In spite of their different political affiliations and analyses, all three panelists are fearlessly challenging the status quo to forge new power paradigms.
McGrath said the biggest surprise for her since launching her campaign has been the behavior of the Democratic Party establishment. “When we talk about a party that embraces equality and women and wanting us at the table, the establishment is still a tough nut to crack,” she said.
Asked by a surprised Charen if House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi at least supports her, McGrath simply responded that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) recruited the “older, big city mayor of Lexington [Jim Gray], who is very well connected within the party, to run five months after I got in the race and raised over a million dollars.”
“It’s part of the problem with our system and it really affects both sides … the establishment on both sides is very entrenched,” said McGrath.
She pointed optimistically, however, to the outcome of the Texas primaries on Tuesday night, showing voters are tired of the establishment “picking the winners.” Nearly 50 women candidates participated in the election — more than half of whom won or advanced to runoffs.
“We need more women in power,” she told the salon audience, to applause. “We need to be at the table, we need to be there when decisions are made about women, about us. It’s not rocket science.”
“My call to action is, if you want to run for something, do it,” she said. “Now is the time. As women we get elected at the same rate as men. The reason there are 19 percent women in Congress right now is because we don’t run. We need more people stepping up.”
“Our society is so riven right now, the polarization is so extreme, people are just marinating in hatred for the other side,” said Charen, who suggested that the breakdown of local community has led to an uptick in partisan identification with one political party or another. “It’s really destructive of our civic health,” she said.
Bryant, however, objected to the idea this was something new, strongly arguing that racism and other divisions currently being keenly felt in society were always there, but now they have been exposed. The divisions “are not the cause of our problem,” she said. “[They’re] merely the symptom of a greater problem.”
Bryant urged voters to ignore the labels — “just because they’re a Republican doesn’t mean they’re racist, and just because they’re a Democrat doesn’t mean they’re on the right side,” she said. Instead she argues for assessing candidates on a case by case basis, critically examining what they’ve done and what they’re promising. And looking beyond the two major parties.
In her role in the labor movement, she is also working to “to get women the training they need to step up and speak out … to run for office … to step up to elected positions of leadership in their unions,” she said.
For her part, Charen feels baffled by the Republican Party having arrived at this point, where “this whole Trump edifice is being held up by big pumps of hot air, and people are afraid that if you take a tiny little pin it will all just explode.”
A lot of people in the Republican Party “are busy manning the pumps,” she said, “so no one will notice [Trump] Is what he is, which is a big mess.”
She spoke out, she said, on behalf of the “millions” in the Republican Party who are dismayed and disgusted by “the Trumpian tone” over the last two years.
“Somehow we conservative Republicans have ended up on the side of the guy who has Playboy magazines all over his office, and is a thrice-married proud womanizer, and who harasses women and brags about it,” she said. “When did this flip suddenly happen, where that’s what we’re defending?”
Above watch highlights and the complete panel from the D.C. Salon. And below, watch McGrath’s campaign video, in which she declares her new mission is “to take on a Congress full of career politicians.”