Getting Over What Happened to Elizabeth Warren

Women didn't vote for her either. But that doesn't mean sexism didn't play a role in her loss.

Elizabeth Warren is apparently doing what all of the other candidates who won’t win the Democratic nomination (save Tulsi Gabbard) have already done.

WaPo (“Warren, Sanders allies scramble to find her an exit ramp“):

Top surrogates and allies of Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are discussing ways for their two camps to unite and push a common liberal agenda, with the expectation that Warren is likely to leave the presidential campaign soon, according to two people familiar with the talks.

The conversations, which are in an early phase, largely involve members of Congress who back Sanders (I-Vt.) reaching out to those in Warren’s camp to explore the prospect that Warren (D-Mass.) might endorse him. They are also appealing to Warren’s supporters to switch their allegiance to Sanders, according two people with direct knowledge of the conversations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss delicate discussions that are supposed to be confidential.

Warren associates and the camp of former vice president Joe Biden also had talks about a potential endorsement if she drops out, according to two people familiar with the conversations.

The whirlwind of activity reflects the rapid changes in a Democratic primary that is still very much in transition. As late as Tuesday, many Warren allies believed she would stay in the race until the Democratic convention, despite her poor showing to date in the primaries, in hopes of retaining her clout and influencing the eventual nominee.

But after Warren’s bleak performance in the Super Tuesday primaries, her associates, as well as those of Sanders and Biden, say she is now looking for the best way to step aside. There is no certainty she will endorse Sanders or anyone else, but the talks reflect the growing pressure on the senator from Massachusetts to withdraw.

Warren campaign manager Roger Lau suggested Wednesday she was considering that. “Last night, we fell well short of viability goals and projections, and we are disappointed in the results,” he wrote to campaign staffers in a note obtained by The Washington Post. “We are going to announce shortly that Elizabeth is talking to the team to assess the path forward.”

Warren is in distant third place in the delegate race. She hasn’t finished in the top two in a single state—not even the state she grew up in and the one she represents in the Senate. It may be disappointing but the reality is that she’s not going to be the Democratic nominee this year unless Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders both die before the convention. And maybe not even then.

But some of her supporters are angry that she lost and see it as a sign that Americans hate women. Two of the top stories on Memeorandum, including the main story, are in that genre.

Jessica Valenti tells us “It Will Be Hard to Get Over What Happened to Elizabeth Warren.”

Iknew going into Super Tuesday that Elizabeth Warren was unlikely to win big. I had prepared myself for that. What did take me by surprise, though, was just how poorly she fared: Even in her home state of Massachusetts, she finished third.

Warren’s team says the senator is “talking … to assess a path forward,” but it’s hard to imagine a viable presidential campaign after last night.

It’s enough to make me feel, well, despairing: that we had the candidate of a lifetime — someone with the energy, vision, and follow-through to lead the country out of our nightmarish era — and that the media and voters basically outright erased and ignored her.

Pundits will all have their theories; fears over “electability” will likely be their #1 explanation. Don’t tell me this isn’t about sexism. I’ve been around too long for that.

Even just supportingWarren has come with an unbearable amount of misogynist condescension. I’m tired of being told that I’m a single-issue voter because I care about a candidate’s gender, even if it’s not the only thing I care about. I’m over being made to feel as if representation for half the population isn’t a necessary and radical political position. I don’t appreciate being told that I’m either anti-revolution because I didn’t support Bernie Sanders or unrealistic because I won’t vote for Joe Biden. I especially resent the theory being bandied about that Warren somehow “stole” votes from Sanders; it’s nonsense.

Whoever the nominee is, their campaign is going to have to come to terms with the intense misogyny so many female voters have dealt with — and understand that it’s an issue we care deeply about. And their supporters are going to have to let us be sad — depressed, even — that once again we’re going to watch a race to leadership between old white men.

These are candidates who, despite their many admirable qualities, don’t have the same proactive plans for issues that impact women like reproductive rights and maternal mortality and don’t understand the way misogyny is embedded in nearly every aspect of American life.

I read Valenti’s piece as more venting than argument. That Warren simply didn’t have much appeal, even to women, outside of affluent white intellectuals won’t change how she feels. Ditto the fact that women made up an overwhelming majority of the voters in every single Democratic contest and Warren never finished in the top two. I’m willing to let her be sad—depressed, even—if that’s how she feels.

Michelle Cottle makes a stronger, subtler case in “Maybe Next Time, Ladies.”

In the early days of this race, voters had a range of women to consider, some more conventionally qualified than others. There were four senators, a congresswoman and a self-help guru who varied in age, race, personal background and professional experience. They hailed from different regions, had different political styles and visions and espoused different policies.

One by one, these candidates fizzled and fell away: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who had pitched herself as a champion of women’s issues; Senator Kamala Harris of California, the tough talking former prosecutor; Marianne Williamson, with her premonitions of dark psychic forces; and Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, the Midwestern moderate who hit her high point with a third-place finish in New Hampshire. Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii is hanging on but has never been more than a curiosity (though she did come in second to Mr. Bloomberg in the caucuses in American Samoa on Tuesday).

For a while last fall, Ms. Warren was the candidate with the mojo. But she came under heavy fire from her rivals, seemed to flip-flop on Medicare for all, stumbled and never recovered. Faring poorly in the early contests, she all but vanished from the discussion. Even before Tuesday, her campaign acknowledged that a path to the nomination would require her to somehow triumph at a brokered convention.
Put more simply: She’s done.

It’s impossible to know the degree to which gender factors into a candidate’s political appeal, or lack thereof, especially at the presidential level. Man or woman, winning the presidency is not merely — or even largely — a question of merit. Americans are forever seeking that indefinable spark — a secret blend of strength and likability, authority and relatability, a talent for inspiring and connecting with voters.

Ms. Warren is thought to have struggled in part because she was too professorial — too schoolmarmish, if you will — to connect with anyone beyond white college-educated women like herself. But had she focused on her up-by-the-bootstraps biography, who’s to say she wouldn’t have been slammed as inauthentic or as trying too hard? As for complaints that she was too strident or shrill or hectoring or inflexible, have any of these critics seen Bernie Sanders? Come on.

This is one of the vexing realities that plague highly accomplished female candidates like Ms. Warren or Hillary Clinton, women whose résumés outstrip those of many of their male rivals. They have been told their whole lives that they have to outwork and outperform the men in order to be taken seriously — only to discover that it’s not enough. It was one thing when Mrs. Clinton lost the 2008 nomination to Barack Obama. Despite his relative inexperience, he was a rare political talent with the added appeal of making history as America’s first black president. But to lose in 2016 to Donald Trump? Winning the popular vote is cold comfort in a race that should never have been close.

Or consider Amy Klobuchar’s conspicuous irritation with Pete Buttigieg’s precocity. On multiple occasions she noted that a woman with his résumé — a 38-year-old former mayor of the fourth-largest city in Indiana — would never be taken seriously. “Women are held to a higher standard,” she said at the November debate. “Otherwise we could play a game called ‘Name Your Favorite Woman President,’ which we can’t do because it has all been men, including all vice presidents being men.”

Whatever your feelings about Mayor Pete, Ms. Klobuchar was not wrong.

Cottle acknowledges that the candidate with the best resume often fails to win, losing out to those who, for whatever reason, connect better with voters. When it was John Kennedy beating out the more seasoned Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton ousting George H.W. Bush (arguably, the most qualified-by-resume person ever to run for President), or Barack Obama beating John McCain (who had been in public service longer than Obama had been alive) that was understood to be politics.

But it’s more hurtful when it happens to a woman because, as trailblazers, they become more than losing politicians but more evidence that women can’t win.

As noted in several posts and comment section discussions in recent days, women have been eligible to vote in this country for a century now and make up the majority of the electorate pretty much everywhere. If women were a voting bloc, in the way African-Americans have been for decades, they could easily have banded together to elect a woman.

But sex and gender, while certainly linked, aren’t the same thing. Cottle doesn’t make that point directly but makes the indirect case very well:

It’s hard for any candidate to get the formula right. For women, it is harder because of a host of unconscious biases.

As often noted, there have been reams of research on this topic, most of it discouraging. The problem goes beyond voters who hold traditional views of gender roles or admit that they wouldn’t be comfortable with a Madam President. More subtly, ambitious women are viewed more negatively than men, while women leaders are often considered less legitimate than men, in the United States, at least.

Studies also show that, whatever their particular pros and cons, women candidates are regarded as inherently less electable. You see this in polls where a high percentage of respondents claim that they are ready to elect a female president, but far fewer believe that their neighbors are.

That perception has had particular resonance in a cycle where a candidate’s ability to beat Mr. Trump has been the overriding concern for most Democrats. And with the sting of Mrs. Clinton’s defeat still painful, many in the party were hesitant to take a chance on another woman.

Not stated here but crucial to the argument is that women are part of the problem. That is, women are not only victims of sexism and double-standards but perpetrators themselves. Yes, men are likely to view a combative woman politician more harshly than a man behaving the same way. But so are women.

Last summer, a poll on perceived electability by Avalanche Strategies found that gender appeared to be a bigger issue than “age, race, ideology, or sexual orientation.” When voters were asked whom they’d pick if the primaries were held today, Mr. Biden came out ahead. When asked whom they would make president with the wave of a magic wand, without the candidate needing to win an election, voters went with Ms. Warren. Women were more likely than men to cite gender as a concern.

Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight lamented that such anxiety can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. “So there are a lot of women who might not vote for a woman because they’re worried that other voters won’t vote for her. But if everyone just voted for who they actually wanted to be president, the woman would win!”

Of course, Silver himself played a role in this. We’ve had opinion polls that simultaneously assess and shape voter attitudes going back to before the infamous “Dewey Defeats Truman!” headline. But Silver helped pioneer and popularize a cottage industry that combined disparate polls and advanced forecasting techniques that have radically altered the way elections are covered.

Not long ago, a Pete Buttigieg would have remained in the race on Super Tuesday. Having won the first of four preliminary contests and coming in a close second in another, he would have been perceived as viable. But Silver and company were able to look ahead to Nevada and South Carolina and pronounce him dead long before the voting took place. That, in turn, made it harder for him to get votes in Nevada and South Carolina and therefore doomed his candidacy.

Similarly, strong showings in back-to-back debates should have buoyed her chances going into Nevada and South Carolina. But it didn’t seem to matter. And, on Super Tuesday, she suffered the fate that Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar would have if they hadn’t conceded beforehand: utter humiliation at the hands of voters who saw a vote for them as wasted.

Would a woman with Buttigieg’s resume be taken seriously enough to get as much attention as he did? It’s impossible to say. But it’s worth noting that a dozen men with credentials every bit as sterling as Klobuchar’s were forced out of the race before she was. Indeed, one could argue that Cory Booker was everything Buttigieg was and more; he didn’t make it to Iowa.

Would a man with Warren’s intellect, enthusiasm, preparation, and debating skills have done better? Again, there’s no way to know. The closest analog I can think of is Howard Dean, who was for quite some time the frontrunner in 2004 before imploding spectacularly.

We know, as I documented yesterday, that Warren and Klobuchar didn’t fail because men rallied against them; they didn’t do all that much better with women. But we have no way of knowing how much sexism and viewing the race through a gendered lens affected the race.

FILED UNDER: 2020 Election, Gender Issues, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Teve says:

    When voters were asked whom they’d pick if the primaries were held today, Mr. Biden came out ahead. When asked whom they would make president with the wave of a magic wand, without the candidate needing to win an election, voters went with Ms. Warren. Women were more likely than men to cite gender as a concern.

    I take comfort in that. Diamond Joe needs to appoint her to a solid economic role.

    BIDEN 2020!

    Sadly a Bernie bro friend of mine is now posting quasi racist comments Biden made 50 years ago, in an effort to boost Sanders. Poor dumb fuck.

  2. Jay L Gischer says:

    bell hooks (no she doesn’t capitalize her name!), author of “Feminism is for Everybody” writes that the most sexist person she’s ever known is her mother. So, just because a woman does it doesn’t mean it isn’t sexist.

    Warren is a great Senator and I expect her to continue to do great things in that role.

  3. Teve says:


    When Trump sends the inevitable tweet gloating about Warren dropping out and it makes you angry, just go ahead and channel that into a donation for a Senate candidate.

  4. Stormy Dragon says:

    I think the big lesson here is that the left has fallen into the same trap the right did: that politics is primarily performative, and thus a candidate with spends all their time rhetorically attacking the infidels while never actually accomplishing anything is preferable to one spends their time actually getting things done, because things that actually get done are never as perfect as the firebrand’s impossible fantasy.

  5. An Interested Party says:

    It’s very revealing, and very depressing, that of the two candidates who were pushing M4A, the one who was vague about how he was going to pay for it is still around while the one who tried to provide details about how to pay for it is ending her campaign…the moral of this story, if you’re a politician, is to promise as much as you can but explain as little as possible…

  6. Nickel Front says:

    From Sarah Palin to Liz Warren, Dems continue to display their sexism and hatred of female candidates.

    Oh well.

    Can’t wait for Nikki Haley 2024!!

  7. An Interested Party says:

    Can’t wait for Nikki Haley 2024!!

    Sorry sweetie, she’s infected with the Trump taint…she won’t be president…meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, there are only 13 Republican women, while there are 88 Democratic women…that says quite a bit about Republicans and what they think of women…

  8. Gustopher says:

    @Nickel Front: Sarah Palin was an idiot. She was actually as stupid as people said Dan Quayle was.

  9. mattbernius says:

    @Nickel Front:

    Dems continue to display their sexism and hatred of female candidates.

    Right, no chance they nominate a female presidential candidate at all! They hate them way too much.

    And further there is no chance that female democratic presidential candidate would beat her republican opponent in the popular vote by millions causing him to throw a shit fit and lie about illegal votes.

    Nope, that absolutely didn’t happen.

    Man that’s a low energy troll effort.

  10. John430 says:

    Democrat voters revealed their racism when they turned away from their African-American candidates and now we see their sexism in booting the lone female candidate. Somewhere in the universe, Geraldine Ferraro must still be disappointed.

  11. Nickel Front says:

    @An Interested Party: oh sweetie, look at what remains of the Dem field. The party of youth and diversity.

    I’m so sorry this is happening to you.

    You all do realize that it’s possible Warren was just a horrible candidate and no one really gives a rat’s ass that she’s female, right?

    And PLEASE don’t trot out the line that Dems didn’t vote for her because of how sexist Republicans are.

  12. Nickel Front says:

    @An Interested Party:

    only 13 Republican women, while there are 88 Democratic women…that says quite a bit about Republicans and what they think of women…

    It does?

    What does it say about Republicans exactly?

    Throwing out meaningless numbers says a lot more about you than anything else.

    If you want to keep being stupid tho, maybe we can talk about John James in MI and, I guess, what Democrats think of black people.

    IDK… I’m not really sure how this is supposed to work.

  13. An Interested Party says:

    Democrat voters revealed their racism when they turned away from their African-American candidates and now we see their sexism in booting the lone female candidate.

    These would be the same Democratic voters who voted for this country’s first black president and who also voted for this country’s first female major party presidential nominee…take a nap, darling…much like your fellow traveler, you too have presented a low energy troll effort…

    I’m so sorry this is happening to you.

    Save your pity for yourself…you need it as you’re the one who supports a racist misogynistic pig…

    It does?

    What does it say about Republicans exactly?

    It says that Republicans can’t or won’t vote for females…it says that the Democratic Party is far more friendly to females than the GOP…

    If you want to keep being stupid tho, maybe we can talk about John James in MI and, I guess, what Democrats think of black people.

    John James, oh boy! One black candidate out of how many GOP candidates…so impressive…meanwhile, huge majorities of black people vote for Democrats rather than Republicans and black elected politicians are almost exclusively Democrats…are all of those black people stupid? Perhaps you could explain why black people support the Democratic Party in such an overwhelming way…

  14. Nickel Front says:

    @An Interested Party:

    It says that Republicans can’t or won’t vote for females


    It’s a DEMOCRAT primary, darling.

    “It’s time for a woman president.”

    Love the way you continue to think All people part of any given Group think the same way.

    At the end of the day, I guess Bernie was right tho: A woman can’t win the Presidency.

    At least, not as a Democrat.

  15. An Interested Party says:

    It’s a DEMOCRAT primary, darling.

    I see your reading comprehension is a little off…I wasn’t talking about the DEMOCRATIC primary, but rather, the paltry number of Republican women in the House…pay attention next time…

    “It’s time for a woman president.”

    I never wrote that…