This Republican single mom wants the GOP to stop ‘being a**holes to women’. What will she do about it?
When Rep Nancy Mace of South Carolina walks into her office in the Longworth House Office building on Thursday, she stops to look at the television to see what Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia has to say on the floor of the US Congress.
Earlier this month, the congresswomen wound up on the same side of a fight when they both supported Kevin McCarthy to become speaker of the House.
But they haven’t always had an easy relationship. In late 2021, the two engaged in a war of words after Ms Greene – the right-wing firebrand Republican who has peddled in conspiracy theories, antisemitism and racism – accused Ms Mace of being “pro-abort.” That led to Ms Mace using emojis to call her “bats**t” and said “bless her f***ing heart.”
“My thing is, I'm cordial with everybody, until you cross the line,” she told The Independent in an interview in her office on Thursday. “You want to punch me out, (I’ll) punch you right back.”
The argument between the two was rooted in abortion since Ms Mace, while describing herself as “pro-baby, pro-gun, pro-pot, pro-gay,” also supports exceptions for rape and incest and warned that Republicans would get blown out over the issue in the 2022 midterms. And Ms Mace, who represents a swing district, said the problem with women and abortion got even worse after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade in the Dobbs v JacksonWomen’s Health Organization decision.
“The Republicans by and large bury their heads in the sand and lost seats because of this issue. We should have had a much larger margin of victory than we did,” Ms Mace said while speaking in her office. Ms Mace said she saw the sea change in her own district, which she said went from “mildly pro-choice” to “vehemently pro-choice.”
“The first issue was it's always jobs, the economic issue. So inflation was number one. The second issue with my constituents and voters was abortion,” she said.
Ms Mace’s attempt to tone down the rhetoric on abortion reflects her larger difficulty in trying to find a middle ground between telling Republicans that they need to appeal to voters’ more moderate senses, while also trying to adhere to conservative orthodoxy and be a loyal Republican.
Since arriving to Congress, she has attempted to straddle that line. As a rape survivor, high school dropout-turned-military academy graduate and single mom in one of South Carolina’s swingiest districts, she has tried to get her fellow Republicans to support provisions like same-sex marriage, cannabis legalisation and access to birth control.
At the same time, she has often voted with House Republican leadership. That split came into sharp contrast when three of the first 12 bills the new House majority voted on dealt with abortion.
“I'm pro-life. So don't get me wrong. I have a very good pro-life voting record,” she said. “
Speaking in her office with a blanket draped over her lap since the building is chilly, Ms Mace said she believes much of the country is like her in that they are socially moderate and fiscally conservative.
“And we've left a lot of people out in the cold. And how do we bring these people back into the fold and it's not not going to win them over,” she said. “We're not going to win hearts and minds over by being a**holes to women. It's not gonna work that way.”
Abortion is also personal for Ms Mace, given that she survived a rape as a teenager. She mentioned her expeirience in a campaign ad during the most recent election cycle.
“We're not going to agree on everything, but I want to find a way, and I'm willing to make some concessions, find a way to balance the right to life but balance women's rights as well,” she said.
At the same time, many Republicans seem to be taking the opposite approach on abortion. Representative Jim Banks, who is running for Indiana’s open Senate seat, agreed with a radio host who suggested there should be a law preventing interstate travel to obtain an abortion. Similarly, Politico reported on Monday that the Republican National Committee voted on a resolution urging “Republican lawmakers in state legislatures and in Congress to pass the strongest pro-life legislation possible,” including laws that restrict abortion to as soon as fetal activity is detected, which is usually around six weeks after pregnancy.
The assault when she was a teenager led Ms Mace to drop out of high school before she earned her GED. She went on to become the first woman to graduate from the Citadel, a military academy based in South Carolina. She wrote a book about her experiences there entitled In the Company of Men.
Since then, Ms Mace has had a career that tracks with the trajectory of the GOP in recent years. In 2014, she attemptd to stage a primary challenge against Senator Lindsey Graham before she worked on Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. Afterward, she served in the South Carolina state legislature before she beat Democratic Representative Joe Cunningham in South Carolina’s 1st District in 2020 as part of a wave of women who flipped seats and whittled away Democrats’ majority in the House.
As a congresswoman, she’s presented herself as a different kind of Republican. She’s sponsored legislation to allow states to legalise and regulate cannabis. Similarly, she voted with Democrats to pass the Respect for Marriage Act to codify same-sex marriage protections, joking on Twitter that “If gay couples want to be as happily or miserably married as straight couples, more power to them. Trust me, I've tried it more than once.”
Similarly, when the House voted to protect access to contraception, she wrote on her jacket, “my state is banning exceptions. Protect birth control.”
She has also occasionally faced difficult moments where she was torn between her party and what she calls being a “caucus of one.” Three days after she was sworn in, Trump supporters raided the Capitol, which led to Ms Mace to say the day after that Mr Trump’s “entire legacy was wiped out yesterday.”
Ms Mace did not vote to impeach the former president for his actions on January 6. But that was still enough to influriate the former president and led him to back a Republican primary challenger to her in Katie Arrington. Afterward, Ms Mace posted a video of herself in front of Trump Tower in New York City praising the former president, which many, including the former president, mocked.
She defended the video in her sitdown with The Independent.
“You know, so many people say I was begging for his endorsement,” she said. “There was no ask for an endorsement in that video. It was to remind my constituents, to remind voters of the policies that I worked on that I agreed with him.”
Ms Mace ultimarely won her primary and then won her re-election in November. But only a week after the midterms, the former president announced his latest run for the White House. This past weekend, the former president visited New Hampshire and her home state of South Carolina with the support of Mr Graham and Governor Henry McMaster.
But Ms Mace said she is officially neutral given that her friends, former US ambassador to the United Nations and governor Nikki Haley, and Senator Tim Scott, who sits in front of her in church, are considering runs for the Republican nomination for president.
“So I'm going to keep my powder dry till the field is set,” she said, adding that she will host cocktails and candidate forums in the state ahead of the primary contest next year. “And once the field is set, I'm going to have a series of events that will bring any candidate that wants to have an audience with voters.”