On her front lawn on the day she suspended her campaign, Senator Elizabeth Warren commented wryly about the role played by gender in the race for the presidency: “You know that is the trap question for every woman,” she warned. “If you say, ‘Yeah, there was sexism in this race,’ everyone says, ‘Whiner!’ And if you say, ‘No, there was no sexism,’ about a gazillion women say, ‘What planet do you live on’?” In almost in the same breath — her voice close to breaking — Warren lamented about “all those little girls who are gonna have to wait four more years to see a woman in the White House.”
The commentariat — almost to a woman — wrung its collective hands when Warren dropped out of the race (where were they when she needed them?). Writing for The Guardian, Moira Donegan lamented that “As a woman, the Massachusetts senator always faced an uphill battle of double standards and misogynist resentment. She had to be competent but not condescending, cheery but not pandering, maternal but not frumpy, smart but not haughty… This is the fate of a lot of women who come close to attaining power, and empirical data backs up the phenomenon.”
In her article, Donegan cites a 2010 Harvard study that argued that women who seek office are viewed more negatively than men. Maybe so: But a 2018 Pew survey found that more than four in ten Americans said they personally hoped a woman would be elected president in their lifetime. About half of all women (51%), compared with 38% of men, said they personally hoped this would happen. In the midterm elections of that year, large majorities of Democratic women (83%) — and men (75%) — said it was a good thing that more women were running for Congress in 2018 than in the past. In a separate poll, seven-in-ten Democrats (69%) said a woman from their party being elected president would be a good thing for the country.
Warren’s plaint about little girls needing to wait another four years to see a woman as President can also be read in two different ways. On the one hand, it is difficult to swallow that all the qualified women who sought the nomination in the Democratic party this year were knocked out by Super Tuesday. On the other hand, waiting another four more years is not long to wait! The suffragists had to work for 70 years to see women gain the vote!
Moreover, I believe that Warren is likely to run again — and win! There are three main reasons.
First, Warren was clearly one of the most competent candidates in the race after she — oddly — swigged a beer while announcing her candidacy in her own kitchen. Her wry humor, her jerky arm gestures, and her sizzling brain power may have put off some voters. But no one could doubt her policy chops, her swift wit, or her ability to out-think and out-debate the other candidates.
It is not hard to see her run rings around the liar-in-chief who currently occupies the White House in a debate.
Second, Warren is unlikely to make the kind of mistakes she made in obscuring the substantial differences between herself and Bernie Sanders twice — for example, in embracing a Bernie-like health care plan before admitting she lacked the details for how to fund it. Although health care is certainly a priority for most voters, that issue also diverted Warren from playing to her strongest suit: her capacity, as a policymaker, to deal with the growing inequality that divides our society. Moreover, four years from now, no one is likely to have forgotten the delays, the confusion, and the sheer incompetence of how the administration is dealing with the corona virus pandemic today.
Third, and most important, although there are still a lot of sexists in the land today, most of them are going to vote Republican. The enormous gains made by Democratic women in the 2018 elections tells us that there is another America stirring at the grassroots. Many of the women who ran in those elections were politicized by the Woman’s March that led to Trump’s first big lie in office — that he attracted more people to his Inauguration than Barack Obama.
After 2016, women were not content to remain as outsiders to the polity. While many of Sanders’ “Bernie-Bros” have no use for the compromises of public life, many of the women who marched in January 2017 do. They moved into grassroots politics, and not only in wealthy suburbs. In her research at the University of Pittsburgh, Lara Putnam found that it was “middle America” that “rebooted democracy” in 2018. As the results dramatically showed, most of the winners in the elections of that year were women. Few of these women’s supporters are going to retreat from the front lines if they are given the choice between a woman like Warren — or Harris or Klobuchar — and the likes of Mike Pence in 2024.
Those who doubt this may be thinking of how Hillary Clinton went down in flames against the attacks of the Trump machine in 2016. But Warren does not carry the baggage that weighed Clinton down in that year, and by now voters are aware — as they could not have been then — what a danger to democracy Trump would turn out to be. What kept many voters from supporting Warren in South Carolina or in Texas this year was not anti-feminism but the fear of doing anything that might leave Trump and his henchmen in charge of our country for another four years. Elizabeth Warren will be there to remind us of the danger to our democracy at every step.
Sidney Tarrow is Professor Emeritus of Government and an Adjunct Professor at the Cornell Law School. He is the author of Power in Movement and, most recently, co-editor, with David S. Meyer, of The Resistance: The Dawn of the Anti-Trump Opposition Movement.