Remember when the debate over "women in combat" was just a niche, professional dispute that seemed to affect only a small number of Americans, all of whom were either in (or trying to get into) ground combat units entirely of their own accord? It was all fun and games back in those days.
But then came last Tuesday, when the chiefs of the Army and the Marine Corps advised a Senate committee that women should have to register for the Selective Service, and then the GOP debate on Saturday, when Rubio, Bush, and Christie all agreed with the idea, and then yesterday, when Cruz said of his fellow candidates' stance: "Are you guys nuts?" A lot of Americans are slowly waking up to the reality that action is currently before the federal courts which could soon result in Selective Service registration becoming mandatory for women, even without congressional action, now that the Obama administration has opened combat units to both sexes.
Presumably Cruz has noticed the shock that followed when Rubio (who has distinguished himself by an extremely conservative, if ideologically consistent, position on abortion) followed by Bush and Christie all threw in for the draft:
Had a weird nightmare where no Republican candidates opposed mandatory registration of women for the draft.
— Ben Domenech (@bdomenech) February 7, 2016
So both bush and rubio favor a draft for women??? crazy — Rich Lowry (@RichLowry) February 7, 2016
What was striking about the answers both Rubio and Bush gave (but not about Christie's contribution, which he volunteered) was how little either man appeared to want to speak about the issue. They both rapidly assented to the question before pivoting to standard conservative talking points on the sorry state of the military in general under President Obama. It would be unsurprising to discover that neither man is particularly enthusiastic about the change, but that they feel there is no point in fighting what seems to be vast national consensus that men and women now have equal rights, and thus equal obligations, regarding military service.
But is there a national consensus on this? Most Americans seem okay with the notion that women who want to try for slots in ground combat units should have a shot, so long as standards aren't lowered. But now that this has become a question not of the exercise of the rights of a small minority, but of the imposition of a duty on almost all young American women, will that consensus hold? Has anyone done polling on this? I would be interested to hear how it goes when you ask, say, South Carolinians, "Would you vote for someone who believes your 18-year-old daughter ought to be compelled to join the military, and possibly serve in direct ground combat, in a future war?" I would also be interested to hear that question asked of 18-year-old women, without any reference to daughters.
Say this for the Washington-based pressure groups that have led the charge for opening ground combat units: They have never lied about their support for opening the draft, too. But they have not emphasized it, either, something that may indicate to conservatives like Cruz that there is a political opening here. And by the way, those who claim that registration for the draft doesn't mean women will be forced to serve in combat if they are one day called up—well, they're not thinking things through. In previous national crises, men had extraordinarily little say in whether or not they would be in a combat job once drafted. The needs of the service trumped all. Are we now meant to believe that, having established that there are no rational grounds for discriminating between men and women in the military, in some future draft women are going to be allowed to choose their own adventure, to enjoy military service a la carte, while the men have to go to combat units regardless of desire?
The question of treating men and women in the armed forces as though they were interchangeable, an issue has been ignored until now by most Americans, is finally having its full implications come into the light. They are vast, and affect every young woman and her parents. Rubio, Bush, and Christie say they are okay with that. Cruz says he is not. How do Republican voters feel?