Of the candidates for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States left standing (if precariously) after the caucuses in Iowa and Nevada and the primary in New Hampshire, two were women. Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren. Klobuchar was at no point in the process a serious contender. Though she had a few good moments, never did she come close to be the Democratic nominee. Warren is a different matter. She did come close. At least she appeared to. During most of last fall she seemed, along with Joe Biden, to be at or near the head of the pack.
Warren’s strengths were apparent:
- She had energy and integrity.
- She had experience and expertise.
- She was a strong retail politician.
- She had a solid staff and a good ground game.
- She had an enthusiastic band of vocal supporters.
- She had policy positions that were carefully conceived and well crafted.
- She had policy proposals that were clear and cogent.
- She was plausible as the first woman president: neither too young nor too old; neither too diffident nor too strident; neither too ingratiating nor too off-putting; neither too feminine nor too masculine.
What then happened? How did her campaign go from being strong, self-confident, and successful to being weak, unpersuasive, and unsuccessful? (As I write, Warren is projected to get 8 percent of the vote in the primary in South Carolina, five days away.)
In hindsight were several theories, such as one focused on the specifics of her plan on health care, which made clear the high cost. (Bernie Sanders, in contrast, has avoided providing any hard numbers.) This though makes little sense. First, most of us have not the slightest memory of whatever the figures she gave. Second, even if this was a misstep, close observers would be hard-pressed to find another. Another theory focused on strategy: her claim to the lane dangerously close to Sanders’s. But would her becoming more of a centrist have helped – given the too large number of centrists already competing?
It’s a tad early for post-mortems. But only a tad. Though we have heard nearly nothing about the relationship, if any, between Warren’s being a woman and her fading campaign, I suspect that when this is over the issue of sexism will surface. I suspect that it will emerge the most important single explicator of what happened to Elizabeth Warren.
We don’t at this point in the process know much. But we do at this point in the process know this. First, that many if not most Democrats have wanted nothing so much come November as to defeat Donald Trump. Second, that many if not most Democrats who have voted so far remained undecided until almost the last moment. Third, that part of the reason for their indecision was their uncertainty about whether a woman could effectively take on a man – specifically this woman, Warren, this man, Trump.
No doubt about it: Warren effectively eviscerated Michael Bloomberg in the debate in Nevada. But Bloomberg turned out a pushover. At least on that occasion he was a hapless opponent who seemed nothing so much as visibly to shrink from her tongue-lashing. But I don’t doubt for one moment that in their mind’s eye those who voted so far saw on some distant debate stage the large, looming, and seemingly supremely self-confident Trump versus the inordinately intense and probably excessively professorial Warren.
Does this make me a sexist? Or a realist?