Elizabeth Warren has ended her presidential bid, to much speculation that her Super Tuesday crash-and-burn was due to sexism; a thoughtful example is Megan Garber’s post-mortem in The Atlantic. I’m sure sexism was a factor in Warren’s failure, but I’m not convinced it was the key factor, or even a major one.
The voters in these presidential primaries are almost exclusively Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. Though they may not be free of sexist tendencies, they are the same people who made Hillary Clinton their presidential nominee in 2016. And let’s not forget that the most powerful Democrat in the country is female: House leader Nancy Pelosi, who according to a fresh Economist/YouGov poll is viewed either very favorably or somewhat favorably by 81% of Democrats —higher than the 70% favorability rating Senate leader Mitch McConnell earns from Republicans. And nearly 38% of Pelosi’s House caucus is female, as opposed to less than 13% of the Republicans’.
So Democrats have proven themselves willing to vote for women and to give them real power.
Consider too the results of the Massachusetts primary. The state has elected Warren to the US Senate twice, so gender hasn’t been a barrier to her winning there. Yet she finished third in the primary, behind Biden and Sanders. Sexism, or something else, like a lack of appeal outside her core constituency of educated white women?
That said, I do think Warren’s chances were harmed by Clinton’s loss in 2016. The idea of running another wonkish female candidate against Trump likely struck many Democrats — and perhaps Bernie Sanders — as what some deem the definition of stupidity: making the same mistake over again and expecting different results.
Still, my sense is that Warren’s defeat is due mainly to poor timing.
Most people have forgotten — assuming they ever knew — that as early as 2013 there was a groundswell for her to run in 2016. Here’s how one US senator encouraged her to go for it: “I like Elizabeth Warren very much. Her beauty is that she is very smart. She speaks English. She can explain economics in a way that everybody can understand.” Guess who that senator was? If you said Bernie Sanders, you’re not only possessed of a heightened sense of irony, but correct. And Sanders wasn’t alone in his wish for a Warren presidential quest. The New Republic quickly got on board with this extensive article. CBS’s John Dickerson advocated for a Warren run in July 2014. A few months later In These Times did the same.
Warren was the candidate the Democrats needed in 2016, a meld of Clinton’s and Sanders’s core appeals: a woman with solid progressive credentials. Could she have gained the 77,000-odd votes that cost the Democrats Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin? It’s not hard to imagine. But unlike Barack Obama in 2008, who also faced a seemingly invincible Hillary Clinton candidacy (along with the anxiety that a black candidate wouldn’t win), Warren failed to seize her moment, preferring to “stay buckled down and keep doing [her] job” in the Senate. Instead, she joined an overcrowded field of 2020 candidates, one that included Sanders, who filled the political vacuum she left in 2016 and developed a formidable campaign apparatus that hemmed in her chances four years later.
Not just her loss. Ours.
As someone who voted for Sanders yet is bracing for a Biden nomination — and as someone eager to turn you on to Randy Rainbow if you’ve never heard of him — I hope Warren supporters will follow the advice in this short, entertaining yet serious video. It’s only our democracy that’s at stake!