Elizabeth Warren is out, and I’m heartbroken. Once again we’re witnessing the death of the dream of a female president, with the leading woman this time foiled not by “likability” but by “electability.”
The New York Times described Warren defeat as “death by a thousand cuts, not a dramatic explosion but a steady decline,” and that’s what this election feels like to me now as a woman seeing this once historically promising field down to one grumpy old man, one very old man and Jill Stein 2.0.
“I will carry you in my heart for the rest of my life,” she told her staff. “If I leave you with one piece of advice: choose to fight only righteous fights.” We all have a long, righteous fight ahead as we are now four more years away from any hope of seeing a woman elected president.
A lot of us woke up on Tuesday Nov. 8, 2016, ready to elect the first female president. By 3 a.m. the following day, most of us were shocked that we had gotten it so wrong. Instead of a woman president, we would be getting a womanizing president.
The following days, weeks, and months were filled with self-flagellation. Conservatives screamed at us liberals, “This is how you got Trump.” The implication was that we libs had made one big mistake which had lost us the election. But, really, none of us could definitively pin Trumpism on one thing, much as we tried. As Democrats puzzled to make sense of it they turned themselves into pretzels desperate to avoid the mistakes of 2016.
In the spring of 2019, it looked like we might have another shot at a female president. The Democratic field was filled with talent, including a historic six(!) women. Surely my daughter would get to see a woman president rise to defeat the most sexist, misogynistic president ever. It would be the perfect Hollywood ending.
There were so many astonishingly brilliant female candidates. There were four senators, three accomplished ones in Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and Kirsten Gillibrand. The fourth, Kamala Harris, was new to the Senate but had been a prosecutor and had already shown great promise. Surely one of them, or all of them, had what it took.
By last July, I was pretty sure that Elizabeth Warren and her “plan for that” would snag the nomination. But as the fall dragged on, Warren started to lose momentum. By November, she was down by 6 points, instead of up by 6 as she had been in September. The selfie lines were no longer cutting it. It seemed as if the Democratic base no longer wanted “systemic change in this country” or if they wanted it, they wanted it from Bernie Sanders and not from Warren.
And then the women started dropping out. First was Gillibrand in August and even though I didn’t think I liked her, I realized after the following, Gillibrand-less, debate that she actually added a lot to the conversation, especially about childcare. In December, Harris dropped out, and I was kind of heartbroken, but we still had two women in the race.
By January, the “woman can’t win” story dropped. It wasn’t entirely clear who leaked the story of Sanders telling Warren that a woman couldn’t win the presidency, but many of Sanders’ supporters blamed Warren. Then came the snake emojis, which some Sanders supporters used to express their displeasure at what they considered to be a double cross from Bernie’s closest progressive allies. Things got real heated, real fast between the two.
And then came Super Tuesday. Warren came in third in her home state of Massachusetts; it was a devastating blow. Whether it was true or not, whether they would admit it or not, Democrats had somehow internalized the message that a woman could not beat Trump. It didn’t matter if it was reality. Enough people believed it to be true thus making it self-fulfilling. All of a sudden, the presidency was once again out of reach again for a female candidate.
The problem may have been that the Democratic Party had ideologically aligned on one thing only: beating Trump. In February, an NBC poll showed 61 percent wanted a candidate who could “beat Trump,” and only 37 percent cared about having a candidate who agreed with me “on issues.” In November Nate Cohn went on The New York Times’ The Daily and explained, “Elizabeth Warren [who at the time had just climbed to the top of the polls for the Democratic nomination] may be a weak nominee because some voters wouldn’t support a woman.” A number of Democratic voters had decided the lesson for 2016 was that a woman couldn’t win. It was internalized misogyny with dashes of self-punditry. Democrats had made a choice they would game the system to beat Trump.
Now Warren is out, and will decide soon, perhaps today, if she will endorse the man whose supporters have been calling her a liar and much worse for months.
It turns out that Democrats want to beat Trump more than they want to break glass ceilings or have big structural change, and that is their right. Primaries are painful and annoying and endless but they do reflect the will of the people, and the people want Joe Biden. Is it sad for those of us who hoped a woman could defeat a misogynist? Yes. Is it hard to watch another white guy succeed? Yes.
We’re looking at a choice now between two old — older than Donald Trump! — white male septuagenarians. As I raise my daughter, and stumble through middle age, I see that our country is pretty fucking misogynistic, and the last glass ceiling remains firmly intact.