Women candidates got a raw deal. Just like always.
What started as the most diverse Democratic field in history has ended up as two old white guys pushing 80.
WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?
As maddening as it is that the choices left to us are not our favorites, many voters — especially women voters — saw 2020 as a chance to avenge Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016, especially since she received nearly 3 million more votes than Donald Trump.
When Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren ended her campaign after disappointing results on Super Tuesday, her campaign really had no choice but to fold, as there was essentially no path forward to the nomination. She followed the path of a series of excellent female candidates, all of whom were forced to suspend their campaigns after running out of money, not receiving enough support in the polls, and not getting enough votes.
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand was an early dropout. California Sen. Kamala Harris, whose poll numbers soared last summer but sank amid a crowded field, could never raise enough money to run a full campaign, especially facing a juggernaut of money sent to male candidates. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar always shone on the debate stage, but she had to share the “moderate” voting bloc with too many others.
(I realize that Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is still technically a candidate, but, except for her one delegate from American Samoa, she has been and remains a non-factor, only serving as a spoiler.)
A record number of women ran for office in 2018, and another record number of Democratic women won House seats. It was the “Year of the Woman” all over again, as many of those new women lawmakers have made their voices heard sponsoring legislation, making numerous media appearances, and gaining influence on social media.
When candidates started launching presidential campaigns, it was heartening to see so many women candidates, as it was to see candidates who were black, Latino, and gay. It was almost as if — at least for Democrats — those distinctions weren’t as important as they once were.
But from the beginning, women faced a double standard. Women candidates are judged on their “moralizing tone” (Warren), their “hysteria” (Harris), or their “likability” (Gillibrand and Warren). Their media coverage was much less than that of male candidates, especially the “B-boys” (Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg). The lopsided coverage became what Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan called a “dangerous, self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Both Sanders and Warren backed a Medicare for All plan. One candidate (Warren) received much media criticism about how to pay for it. The other (Sanders) got a free pass, with media instead focusing on his huge rallies of fawning supporters.
The most anger-inducing fact of all of the women having to abandon their campaigns is that, by all practical measurements, they were just better candidates and would have made better presidents. Warren ran a better campaign than anyone and had a website full of proposals, even selling T-shirts that proudly proclaimed, “Warren has a plan for that.”
Klobuchar had all of the characteristics of being the best candidate on paper, as FiveThirtyEight put it, with her effective Senate career and her winning electoral record in a Midwestern state. Former FBI Director James Comey, who went to the University of Chicago Law School with Klobuchar, once described her as “annoyingly smart.”
Harris displayed her prosecutor chops in multiple Senate hearings. Attorney General William Barr embarrassed himself when he stumbled over her repeated questions about whether Trump had ever asked him to investigate anyone. You know, like Joe Biden’s son Hunter in Ukraine.
There are many reasons why this race ended up as it has. Each candidate spent too much time in Iowa and New Hampshire, chasing a small number of delegates in two overwhelmingly white states. They had no way to fight against Sanders’ money and organization or against the hundreds of millions spent by short-time candidate Mike Bloomberg, even though that fizzled in the end. They couldn’t fight against Trump’s media dominance, in which the media still chase down and cover his nonsensical and insulting tweets. The media still allow themselves to get distracted when Trump directs their attention away from his lies and bad judgment.
The media spent so much time focusing on “electability” of Democratic candidates that they eventually convinced voters that Democrats had to choose a white male to defeat Donald Trump. That became the self-fulfilling prophecy, even though Warren, Harris, or Klobuchar would have wiped the floor with Trump during a debate.
Hey, media — think you can be a little more even-handed from now on? Give candidates equal and fair coverage? After all, 29 countries currently have women leaders, and 59 countries have had women as heads of state. Don’t you think it’s past time for the U.S. to catch up to the rest of the world?
The biggest factor was the fact that there were just too many candidates for lesser-known candidates to break through. Some in the race had no business being there and had no base of natural support. Before the next contest, many candidates need to check their egos at the door and take a good, hard look at what’s possible before wasting a lot of our time.
So now we’re down to the two old white guys. Warren’s campaign suspension was like a final punch in the gut to women everywhere:
An NPR story quoted the head of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University about the problem women still face getting elected to executive positions:
The rapid rise of black women mayors in large American cities is a sign that black women are making strides in an area where all women have long been absent, said Debbie Walsh, the center’s director.
“One of the challenges that we’ve seen over time for women, in general, is women in executive leadership,” Walsh said. “There’s an assumption that women in legislative positions, whether federal level, state level or even at the city level work well in committee, work well on councils. It fits for the stereotype for women.”
“Breaking that final glass ceiling of women as executives really opens up a world of possibilities. To be the person who is the final decider, the place where the buck stops, is something that we think voters may be more hesitant about,” Walsh continued.
Now, all we can do is move forward and hope we make the right choice in the voting booth. If Joe Biden wins in November, I hope he’s smart enough to realize that he’ll need good younger people around him and in his Cabinet, and that many of them need to be people of color and have two X chromosomes. The group that ran for president would be an excellent starting point.
As for the women candidates, this is the best suggestion I’ve seen:
I’d gladly buy a ticket to that event. Heck, let’s televise it. It would get Super Bowl-level ratings, and wine sales beforehand would go through the roof.
Maybe afterward, we can all throw our wine glasses at that glass ceiling that holds qualified women back. If not this year, then in 2024.