vision 2020

Intelligencer Chat: Are Democrats Too Nervous to Nominate a Woman?

Elizabeth Warren. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

There are several qualified women running to take on President Trump in 2020. But with the trauma of 2016 still fresh in their minds, will voters be more hesitant than ever to cast a ballot for a candidate they fear might fall victim to prejudice? Intelligencer staffers Irin CarmonJonathan ChaitBenjamin HartMargaret HartmannEd Kilgore, and Eric Levitz discuss.

Ed: Somebody already flagged this Matt Yglesias piece on the women of the 2020 field. But let it be noted he’s taken up the “No Men Need Apply” battle cry that I’ve been threatening to utter for a while, and he goes to some trouble to refute the claim that HRC lost because of voter sexism.

So do others here think Warren and Harris and Klobuchar are fatally weakened by Democratic fears that a piggy-piggy electorate will give Trump a second term rather than electing a woman?

Ben: I’ve certainly heard those fears voiced out loud.

Jon: It’s true that on gender as well as race, what we see as more lefty analytic arguments about the nature of the electorate become conservative arguments when translated into practical advice. The more fundamental you think racism and sexism are in the minds of voters, the more crucial avoiding those traps becomes to winning.

Ben: To state the perhaps-obvious, I think the bar is set higher for women and minority candidates. Klobuchar is not very dynamic and is an angry boss; Warren is seen by some as professorial, and has the Native American baggage. These qualities are probably cast as fatal flaws more quickly than they would be with their white male counterparts. (I do think Harris has a better shot than those two.)

Margaret: Yeah, me too. My personal sexist fears are focused mainly on Warren.

Ed: What seems to have dropped out of the calculation is the possibility that frontlash can outweigh backlash, as it did in a lot of midterm and off-year elections. And it sure did with Obama in 2008.

Eric: I don’t think it has. The fact that Stacey Abrams dramatically outperformed her recent Democratic predecessors in Georgia is a huge part of why she’s such a phenom. Progressives need to believe that the right candidates can make frontlash work, in order to reconcile the tension Jon just highlighted.

Ed: So you agree that the problem may be in the heads of Democrats rather than the hearts of swing voters?

Eric: I don’t think we have enough data to know, but I don’t think mobilizing the Dem base is going to be much of a problem when President Trump is on the ballot (as opposed to when “sure-loser” Trump was).

Ed: I agree, but I’m talking about the nominating contest.

Ben: I think the hyperfocus on the industrial Midwest is part of the problem here.

Eric: If swing voters in the Midwest are the primary concern (rather than base mobilization), then a Biden type does seem like the logical choice from a purely electoral perspective.

Ed: Even those who have issues with Biden’s age and background, and really want to see a woman elected president, might be tempted to endorse a Biden-Abrams ticket, particularly if it would reduce the odds of a protracted nominating contest.

Irin: Anecdata: I just had breakfast with a bunch of Democrats in Trump-won coastal NC, supporters of Planned Parenthood who I spoke to about my book last night, and every single one was either Biden or Beto because “we have to be pragmatic.” Fear is driving this.

Margaret: Interesting. I had a conversation yesterday that suggests I may have underestimated the American voter in my comments a few days ago. Person said Biden is No. 1 pick, would be even better with “lady who delivered SOTU response” as VP, Warren is No. 2 because “she seems really smart.” Beto is a joke who doesn’t know policy.

Sorry I misjudged you, mom.

Ben: Haha.

Irin: Lol.

Ben: It’s funny that Beto is seen as the pragmatic choice.

Irin: Yes, that part is really telling.

Jon: But the more racist and sexist you think the electorate is, the more that makes sense.

Irin: One (white) woman was like, “Everyone is asking whether we should focus on the South or the Midwest. Well, I’ve lived in the South my whole life, and my answer is the Midwest.”

Ed: The Trump reelection panic Irin is talking about is what I wrote about here.

Jon: I do think voters casually associate some traits with being liberal, and others with conservative, so a female/nonwhite/northern candidate will be seen as more liberal, and might have more pressure to move to the center, and the reverse for white/male/southern/military vet, etc. By the same token, Republican minorities and women can be seen as moderate without moderating their policies.

Ben: I look forward to finding out in a few short months whether the 2020 electorate is really racist and sexist, or just very racist and sexist.

Are Democrats Too Nervous to Nominate a Woman?