She may’ve not been the perfect candidate, nor a universally-embraced standard bearer of the left, but many still feel the sting of the big backhander that was Hillary Clinton’s loss. It makes sense. The most qualified candidate to ever run for president was beaten by a self-proclaimed pussy grabber, a man accused of rape by his own ex-wife, a father that said he’d be dating his own daughter if they weren’t genetically related. Plus, she got more votes and all that.
Yes Donald Trump is Not A Nice Man. And the only saving grace of Not Nice Men is that they tend to be Very Sore Losers. As such, the idea of a woman dislodging the president was an exquisite dream for many: Tango Gammon thrashing in the Oval Office, stress eating Big Macs, Secret Service agents eventually having to tranquilise a man with an irreparably damaged ego so that he’d vacate the premises.
And it seems that the idea will remain just that: a dream. For last night, as the Democratic race for president entered its second phase, the two leading women candidates saw the curtain fall on their campaigns: Elizabeth Warren, and Amy Klobuchar. The voters in New Hampshire have gone elsewhere. Women candidates, despite ascending the podium in respectable places (especially a poll-defying third place finish for Klobuchar), likely won’t have the momentum to carry them through the long and winding road of a presidential primary process.
Hillary Clinton spoke of a glass ceiling that was significantly weaker as she conceded the election to Donald Trump. And she was right. There were 66 million cracks in it. But it seems not even that was enough to smash through in New Hampshire, and we may be waiting another four years till a woman realises her place in the White House. Here’s why.
The primaries – the official name given to the series of elections and contests to decide upon the nominee for president – are notoriously drawn out. They’re also notoriously expensive. To even break out upon the national stage, contenders must plough millions into events and TV advertising at least nine months before the first ever contest (which begins in the middle of the nation, in Iowa, a state you’ve likely never even heard of). That means candidates must raise millions in funds.
And, as the aforementioned middle-of-nowheresville leg has been and gone, all eyes were on the second phase: a primary casting of ballots in the northeastern state of New Hampshire. Since Iowa was largely inconclusive (second-chance socialist senator Bernie Sanders – remember him – effectively drew with a moderate mayor named Pete Buttigieg), the stakes were even higher.
Elizabeth Warren was at one point a frontrunner, and became the only woman candidate in a top tier of men. After a slide in the polls, and trying to please everyone on healthcare – which isn’t free in the US, heaven forbid – her bronze medal in Iowa fell to a fourth place in New Hampshire. Which is the dead zone. Pundits have written her off. That means rolling news coverage (much like the BBC if it had an amphetamine problem) is negative. That means voters are looking elsewhere. That means Warren, realistically, is out of the running.
The surprise of New Hampshire came in the form of Amy Klobuchar, a moderate senator from Minnesota. As a centrist candidate (and one that has had much electoral success in a state that wasn’t so kind to the likes of Hillary Clinton), it was a surge, defying expectations in the polls. But it won’t be enough. As Sanders and Buttigieg cleared the field once more, Klobuchar looks set to struggle in the next contests of Nevada and South Carolina - two states in which primary voters are largely Latino and African-American, a minority bloc that make-up an overwhelming portion of Democratic voters. And they’ve never heard of (or care for) the likes of aw-shucks-Midwest-nice Amy Klobuchar. But they have heard of Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden: the vice-president that is also in the race for the White House.
The two women who once had a shot at the White House are very different women. And Warren was always the rising star. A young mother-turned-special needs teacher-turned-Harvard professor, the senator for Massachusetts wasn’t always that interested in politics. After studying bankruptcy law on a forensic level, she realised that companies and corporations held all the cards, and working families were struggling. So, she went into Washington, all guns blazing, and demanded that the then-President Obama do something. YouTube ‘Elizabeth Warren Donald Trump’ corruption, and you’ll understand how she got her way: by explaining how we were all being done over by men with fat pockets. She set up a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to regulate the banks, and she was then encouraged to run for senator in her homestate. She won, beating a very popular incumbent Republican, and in 8 years, took her big middle finger up at the credit card companies onto the national stage in a bid for president.
Klobuchar however, is different. While Warren has built a profile on ‘big structural change’ (her supporters really like chanting this at rallies), the Minnesotan senator has shied away from vast sweeping changes and has focused on the small things. And, this sort of pragmatism has resulted in a lot of policy success: her colleagues on the opposite side don’t have a problem with making swimming pools safe for the children, but they do have a problem with them getting an education. As a woman seeking to bridge the gap between the progressive left and the centre-left, she promises can get stuff done as a former lawyer, and a woman who has never lost an election.
Though Hillary Clinton secured the nomination to continue Obama’s legacy, she was a Very Big Deal in Washington. The former secretary of state had overwhelming support from the establishment. She also had overwhelming amounts of cash. That paved the way to fighting for the Democrats against Trump, but nobody could’ve predicted her own baggage as a candidate, and her cheating husband’s baggage she was also forced to carry. What’s more, a combination of her corporate cosying-up, a promise of continuation out of step with a wider need for change, and, indeed, the ingrained sexism of TV punditry and the systems of power we abide by, saw her lose.
Warren and Klobuchar have nowhere near the same amount of shortcomings. But, the same insults are levelled at both: Warren is ‘schoolmarmish’, and ‘bossy’. Where Bill Clinton was nicknamed the Explainer-in-Chief for articulately (and simply) surmising complex political processes, she is labelled condescending. Klobuchar too has been hampered by leaked stories of her reputation as a ‘tough boss’, in which she’s allegedly fired candidates and screamed and ranted and demanded like most other line managers in America that have an XY chromosome. But women can’t behave like men because, well, that’d just mean we were equal and heaven forbid that, eh!
But each candidate also lost beyond reasons of misogyny - though that was undoubtedly a factor. Warren perhaps peaked too early, enjoying a summer of love before crowds of thousands in New York and pole position in the polls. Her message tired too quickly, and had too long to come under attack. And, under big names like Bernie and Biden and Warren, Klobuchar has always had a tough time breaking out. Yes, third place was a surprise. But it was just that: third place in a state that has sent two women to the senate, and gave Clinton a huge win in the 2008 race against Obama.
The primaries continue. As Bernie rode a youthquake to victory in New Hampshire, things are looking good for him (and despite a few arguments on the way, Warren is his ideological soulmate on the left wing). Nevada comes, then South Carolina, then Super Tuesday - a name that could’ve only been dreamt up by American cable news, and a special event in which multiple states vote. If a candidate clears the board and earns a majority here, they’ve locked up the nomination. It’s also the point where several drop out.
Regardless of underwhelming finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, Warren and Klobuchar have both vowed to continue. Women don’t give up that easily. But a Democratic candidate has never clinched the nomination without a first place finish in Iowa or New Hampshire. And as attention turns to Sanders and Buttigieg, it’s likely that they’ll be forgotten altogether in the ensuing media narrative.
Though they haven’t forgotten one another. As Warren wrapped up New Hampshire, still energetic, and still looking forward, she delivered a nod to the colleague that had bested her, and one that had shaken up the polls: “I wanna congratulate my friend, and colleague, Amy Klobuchar, for showing just how wrong the pundits can be when they count a woman out.” Let’s hope they continue to do so.
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