The Clinton campaign’s response is this clever little video:
This isn’t the first time the #gendercard hashtag has made an appearance, but I’m guessing Clinton will be using it a lot. The issue of Clinton’s gender and how it will matter in the campaign really has three different components to it, and from what we can tell so far, Clinton believes all three are going to work to her advantage. Let’s break it down.
The first component is symbolism: If Clinton wins, America will have its first woman president, a mere 240 years after the country’s founding. Clinton didn’t emphasize this point in 2008 until her primary campaign was nearly over, and its potency was diluted by the fact that a potential Barack Obama presidency was also historic. But this time, she hasn’t hesitated at all. Indeed, in her announcement speech, she said, “I may not be the youngest candidate in this race. But I will be the youngest woman President in the history of the United States!” That highlighted another calculation at work: as Greg noted last month, the Clinton campaign sees the idea that her presidency would be groundbreaking as an effective rebuttal to Republican arguments that she’s an aging candidate of the past.
The Republican counter to the argument about history was summed up by McConnell: “I’m sure there are millions of Americans who would love to have a woman president but the question is, a woman president to do what?” It’s a perfectly legitimate argument, but it leads to the second component of this issue, where the Clinton campaign seems to think it has an equally compelling case to make: policy.
You may have noticed that that video mentions a series of issues of special concern to women, including abortion, equal pay, paid sick leave, and child care. Most of them are things that Republicans would rather ignore, both because they score well in polls and because as free marketeers, Republicans just don’t think government should be involved in them. In a campaign context, policy disagreements don’t get much more enticing than that — something you have popular proposals on, and your opponent doesn’t even want to discuss.
The third component of the gender issue in 2016 is the potential for backlash. Throughout her career, Hillary Clinton has been the target of a steady stream of sexist attacks, painting her as a castrating shrew who was not in fact a woman at all, but a man (note to late-night comedy writers: that joke you thought of about her having balls? It’s been done to death). And I promise you, we’ll see more of it, whether it’s from a Republican politician making the offhand intemperate remark or conservative media figures unloading a dump truck of misogynistic vitriol. And when it does, even if it’s not the Republican nominee doing it, it will remind women of all the crap they have to put up with, whether it’s at work or on the street or even in their homes.
According to Gallup polls, the gender gap in the last five presidential elections has averaged 15.8 points. In 2012 it was the highest they’ve measured at 20 points; Barack Obama trailed Mitt Romney by 8 points among men but led him by 12 points among women (exit polls put the gap at a slightly lower 18 points). If Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee in 2016, it will almost certainly be even higher. And it looks like that’s just what the Clinton campaign is counting on.