| 8.2°C Belfast

Hopes of woman president fade four years after Hillary Clinton’s shock defeat

Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders, both men who are older than Donald Trump, will fight it out for the Democratic nomination.


The White House in Washington, US (Niall Carson/PA)

The White House in Washington, US (Niall Carson/PA)

The White House in Washington, US (Niall Carson/PA)

Elizabeth Warren’s withdrawal from the contest for the Democratic Party’s nomination for the presidency has left many asking why US voters seem so reluctant to elect a woman to the Oval Office.

Hillary Clinton may have got millions more votes than Donald Trump in 2016 but she was beaten to the top job by a candidate who pitched his campaign perfectly to the swing voters in the battleground states and therefore won the all-important Electoral College.

Ms Warren’s departure after a campaign that had promised so much leaves only one woman, Tulsi Gabbard, in the race but it would need a miraculous turnaround for her to secure the nomination.

US Election
(PA Graphics)

Instead Mr Trump looks set to face an older man in November, either former vice president Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders.

“It’s a day for many people of mourning, just true mourning and grieving,” said Jill Warren, a 61-year-old semi-retired nonprofit consultant who is no relation to the former candidate whose departure from the race she regrets.

“It’s a day for many people of mourning, just true mourning and grieving,” said Jill Warren, a 61-year-old semi-retired nonprofit consultant.

“The ascendancy of old white dudes is not over,” she said.

Elizabeth Warren’s exit, coming after the one-time frontrunner could not win a single Super Tuesday state, brought home a new and painful reality to some voters.

If 2019 was the Year of the Woman, with a record number of women sworn into Congress and a record number launching presidential campaigns, 2020 was another Year of the Man in presidential politics.

Polling during a string of primaries has revealed the durability of doubts about female candidates and electability.

At least half of Democratic primary voters believe a woman would have a harder time than a man beating Trump, according to AP VoteCast polling in four states that voted Tuesday.

What is more, women are somewhat more likely than men to say so.

That comes even as solid majorities of those voters say it is important to elect a woman president in their lifetime.

The message is clear: We want a woman, but not this time.

Election 2020 Trump
President Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote to the former first lady (Matt Rourke/AP)

As she announced her departure on Thursday, Ms Warren’s voice cracked when she talked about meeting so many little girls while campaigning around the country the past year, knowing they “are going to have to wait four more years”, at least, to see a woman in the White House.

And she addressed what she called the “trap question” of gender in the race.

“If you say, ‘Yeah, there was sexism in this race,’ everyone says, ‘Whiner!’” she said.

“And if you say, ‘No, there was no sexism,’ about a bazillion women think, ‘What planet do you live on?’”

Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore (PA)

How different things had looked back in the summer, when Ms Warren and five other women, a record number, appeared on the primary debate stage over two nights in late June, demonstrating the depth and diversity of the female field.

Ms Warren and California Senator Kamala Harris earned top reviews for their debate skills.

At the time, Debbie Walsh, director of the Centre for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, had ventured to hope the female candidates could shake up the age-old electability question left hanging by Mrs Clinton’s stinging loss to Trump in 2016: Is the country ready to elect a woman president?

But this week, Ms Walsh was left to muse on how early Democratic primary voters were acting out of fear and caution and were buying “a false narrative out there that women candidates are too risky”.

“This was the year that the Democrats were hell-bent on winning,” Ms Walsh said.

“A woman was defeated in 2016.

“There was all this talk after that, trying to explain, ‘How did Donald Trump happen?’ And this caution and fear has largely motivated us to the place we are right now.”

All this, Ms Walsh said, despite the great political success by female candidates in 2018, in Congress and in statewide races, showing that “as we have always said, when women run they win at about the same rate as men do in comparable races.

Election 2020 Debate
Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden will duel for the Democratic nomination (Patrick Semansky/AP

“We saw it across the board in 2018 and frankly in 2016, when more people voted for Clinton than Trump”.

But the women in the race this time could not compete.

Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar peaked with a third-place finish in New Hampshire but fell fast after failing to build the sort of racially diverse coalition needed to win a Democratic primary.

Ms Warren’s third-place showing in Iowa was her best, despite building a large national operation and surging last summer to the top tier.

Hawaii Representative Ms Gabbard remains in the race but has picked up only two delegates, hundreds behind the two men leading the race.

“It looks like we’re coming down to two old white guys,” said LindaRosales, a 64-year-old retired lab worker. “I’m disappointed.”

She and Dee left with a free green Amy 2020 T-shirt.

Ms Warren could not be accused of ducking the big issues, and among her contributions to the race was a sharp confrontation with billionaire former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg over his treatment of female employees.

“Of course, she was the one to eviscerate Bloomberg,” said Iris Williamson, a 26-year-old teacher from Brooklyn, who noted with sadness that Ms Warren did not seem to get credit with voters for the move.

“Leave it to women to expose people for who they are and then not be rewarded for their work.”

We just have to keep going until we crack that final big glass ceilingHillary Clinton

If anyone knows about painful losses it might be Mrs Clinton.

“There still is a double standard.

“There are still a lot of biases about women becoming president.

“But I made a lot of progress, and I was thrilled that so many women ran this time,” Mrs Clinton, who did not endorse anyone in the primary, said at a New York screening of an upcoming documentary on her life.

“We just have to keep going until we crack that final big glass ceiling.”