Earl Ofari Hutchinson
There was not a single moment during the 2016 presidential campaign that one or another GOP operative group didn’t drop a subtle hint or launch a flat out open attack that a woman president shouldn’t be in the cards. The assaults were mean, dirty, vicious, and sexist. But it was a constant throughout the campaign. It was something Hillary Clinton had to spend much time and effort fending off.
But Hillary was a white woman. There’s the strong possibility that presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s pick will be a Black woman. Now, normally, a vice presidential pick, woman or no, would be at best a political footnote to the presidency.
However, this time it’s different for two reasons. One is Joe’s age and possible health challenges. There’s also the hint of his only serving one term. The other is that the VP pick would be in a commanding position to make a run for the White House at the end of Biden’s tenure. This is why there is so much chatter, speculation, and betting on who Joe will pick.
A Black woman in that spot will be on a red-hot seat. In fact, even before Biden makes the pick she has been on that seat. In part due to the standard sexist hints and innuendos slung at a top woman candidate and in part due to race. Race first, Trump and the GOP will steal pages from the playbook it used in the assault on Obama. That was naked race baiting, questions about his patriotism, his competence to hold the office, and magnifying every alleged failure of his before and during his tenure in the Oval Office. Obama overcame the non-stop barrage of digs, innuendoes, and insults and had a successful presidency. But he was also a man. This provided a partial shield from the some of the worst of the GOP’s political venom.
Biden’s female VP won’t have that shield. Several of the leading female contenders for the VP spot have already been baited with allegations of being too cozy with Castro, blamed for Benghazi, and and too inexperienced. This is just a warmup for what the eventual VP nominee can expect.
The overt attacks will be bad enough but just as worrisome is the deeply ingrained belief in many women that the Oval Office is a man’s office. The idea is that the president must be tough, aggressive, and decisive, and that takes a man. Yes, hundreds of women have won seats in Congress and in legions of local elections over men. And yes, at that level it’s the long needed and awaited sea change in how many women see women candidates in head to head challenges versus men candidates.
But there are thousands and Congressional and state offices but only one president. This is where the old thinking still rears up about the presidential office being a man’s office. In one poll taken during the 20116 presidential campaign nearly 70 percent of men and women were lukewarm at best in answering the question whether they thought women were “respected” in politics. One out of four respondents flatly said that there would never be a woman president, and the most optimistic thought it would take at least another five years before that happened.
Trump exploited that sentiment to the hilt. He may be the biggest sexist, misogynist, female abuser that ever sat in the White House. But he’s still seen as brash, tough, and outspoken. For many women, that seems to mark him as having the right stuff to be President. This same litmus test will apply to Biden’s VP pick because she could be president in the case of any Biden health issue, or he elects to serve one term. All eyes will be on her from the start, and she will have to find a way to crack this deep engrained gender silliness.
There’s another hurdle. That’s the women who ultimately voted for Trump. Nearly half of the women who backed him didn’t fit the small town, small mind branding. They were college educated, middle class women who lived in the suburbs. They not only didn’t like Hillary, but also didn’t like the idea of a woman sitting in the Oval Office.
The Biden campaign understands his female VP pick will draw massive fire from Trump, GOP, and their echo chamber right wing talking heads. It will be ugly and vicious and will combine all the racial and taunts and digs that were tossed at Obama and the same type sexist taunts and digs that were tossed at Clinton. Just what steps Biden will take to parry the coming assault is unclear. However, the watchword is be prepared for the worst.
Biden’s VP then is not running as a vice-presidential candidate. She’s running as a defacto Democratic presidential candidate. The result of 2016 presidential election sadly proved that she will have her work cut out to make sure Trump and the GOP’s race and sexist assaults don’t stick.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of Who Can Beat Trump? America’s Choice 2020 He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is