Earl Ofari Hutchinson
If Democratic presidential contender Elizabeth Warren bags the Democratic presidential nomination, there are two certainties. One is that the overwhelming majority of Democratic women voters will vote for her. The other is that a lot of other women won’t. This is one hurdle facing Warren. She’ll need to have as many women as possible backing her in the five states that will decide the White House to win. Trump’s coup in snagging tens of thousands of women voters in the 2016 presidential election made the difference in his win against a woman, Hillary Clinton. While Democratic women voted loyally for Clinton, they voted for her because she was a Democrat. It was a case of party loyalty first. They would have voted for whomever the Democratic candidate had been.
Early polls and surveys show that not much has changed. Many of the same women who backed in 2016 will do it again. They’ll do it in part out of party loyalty, and in part out of the old notion still deeply ingrained 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 man. Yes, as repeatedly said 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 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. Warren 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 brutal reality is that Clinton turned off many women in the must win states not because she was a woman. They bought the hit attack lines from Trump and the GOP that she was aloof, corrupt, untrustworthy, and practically one step away from an indictment. One media investigative team even compiled hundreds of the most outrageous digs about Clinton from the 2008 campaign from assorted commentators, male and female. As Trump pathetically showed, not much changed eight years after that.
Warren has laid out policy position after policy position on education, health care, taxing the wealthy, wealth inequality, climate control and much more. They’re all jampacked with details on how to implement the sweeping political and economic changes she envisions for the country. This should be enough to take off the table any notion that she is not a presidential candidate with a plan no matter whether one agrees or not with some or all of that plan. But will it? For the conservative women who backed Trump in 2016 it won’t. The test is whether there are enough other women who aren’t conservative or Democratic voters who see Warren and her program as one that they can back even though it comes from a woman.
There’s yet one more hurdle. No one really knows just how many women there are who really want to see a woman be president but who might hold back from backing Warren in the Democratic primaries precisely because they’re scared stiff that a woman can’t beat Trump. The safer play seemingly for them to back a Biden or Sanders. A poll spun this by asking those who backed Warren if they could change anything about her what it would be. No surprise, gender was the runaway answer. Put simply, they’d be much more comfortable with her in a match up against Trump if she were a he.
Warren is not running as a woman presidential candidate. She’s running as a Democratic presidential candidate. In a perfect world, that’s all she should have to run as. The result of 2016 sadly proved otherwise. Warren has her work cut out to make sure 2020 is different—for a woman.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of Who Can Beat Trump?: America’s Choice 2020https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07KVM86C6 He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is