Republicans are dusting off a tried and true election…

Male voters have been drifting right in record numbers – and Republicans are taking a viciously homophobic and sexist tack to appeal to them.

The 2022 midterm elections are shaping up to be among the most deeply gender-divided elections in American history. A new poll by NBC News, measuring voters’ preferences ahead of the November elections, shows that the gap in women and men’s voting patterns has deepened considerably over the past 12 years, with Republicans holding an 18-point advantage among men, and Democrats holding a 15-point advantage among women. That 33-point gender gap is up from a 16-point divide in the 2010 midterms.

Despite the large degree of analytical attention that has focused on the voting habits of suburban white women, it seems that it’s men who are changing their voting habits most dramatically. The NBC News polling shows that men with college degrees have moved dramatically to the right, lurching towards Republicans by 26 points since just 2018. Men on the whole have moved towards Republicans by 20 points.

The Republican party’s exploding support among men comes as the organs of rightwing media and many Republican politicians have embraced a vitriolic language of gender grievance. For months now, the conservative media has been hammering a message of gender and sexual disorder, seeking to stoke the fears, bigotry and resentment of its audience against the social and legal gains that have been made by women and LGBT groups over the past decades. This message has been enthusiastically taken up by Republican politicians, and issues of sexual anxiety have come to preoccupy every level of American government, from local school board meetings to the recent confirmation hearings of a new supreme court justice.

It is hard to define the exact moment when men’s gender grievance came to preoccupy the Republican party. With Republicans’ long commitment to anti-choice and anti-trans bills over the past few years, the issue has had longstanding resonance among the base. But a shift seemed to occur last September, when Pete Buttigieg, the secretary of transportation, announced that he would be taking parental leave after he and his husband adopted a pair of newborn twins. Tucker Carlson, the Fox News broadcaster who serves as a weathervane for so much conservative grievance politics, attacked Buttigieg on his show. “Paternity leave, they call it. Trying to figure out how to breastfeed. No word on how that went.”

Carlson’s comments were layered with bigotry – against gay men, against mothers, against trans people. But the message was clear: caring for children was feminine and unbecoming of someone who aspired to the masculine authority of a cabinet position. Buttigieg had failed the conservative gender test not once, but twice: first, he was too feminine by virtue of being a gay man. Then, he was too feminine by virtue of being an involved, caregiving parent. The dig was homophobic but also sexist: the only way Carlson could say that Buttigieg was too womanly for power is if women aren’t appropriate holders of power in the first place.

Carlson’s attack marked a return to open, avowed homophobic hatred on the Republican right, a stance that had gone dramatically out of fashion, and implicitly out of social acceptability, since the supreme court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v Hodges, the case that recognized the right of same-sex couples to marry nationwide. Republicans had made a strategic retreat from open homophobia, reasoning that the cultural and generational tides were turning toward acceptance of gay couples. With the success of Carlson’s attack – the homophobic mockery of Buttigieg was enthusiastically embraced by Carlson’s viewers – it seems the tide had turned again. In the months since, homophobia has been unleashed as a reliable way for rightwing figures to rally their base. Gay bashing is back.

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