We have noted the unfortunate sentiment expressed quite openly among some Democrats — even among some female Democrats — that the 2020 election is about an existential threat to our country (reelecting President Trump) that is far too important to risk nominating a woman. We’ve argued that there is little rational reason to assume that any female contender would be disadvantaged running against Trump, but the attitude is disturbingly pervasive among Democratic voters as well as among party insiders.
Stacey Abrams, who ran for governor in Georgia in 2018, had the best answer to this I’ve heard. During an interview with The Post, she explained:
When I declared, there was a group that just thought it was impossible for a black woman to cut through the history of racism and sexism in the state of Georgia, and that I certainly couldn’t accomplish something [winning as a Democrat] that white men had not been able to accomplish for the last 15 years. . . .
Friends who diminish their assumption of my capacity because of phenotype — that was the most depressing and saddening part. Particularly women who helped me win my first race, who urged me to run for leader, who understood how I had navigated so many difficulties and had been an incredibly successful leader. But in this moment of opportunity, could not push themselves past the lack of imagination that I could do this. It was repeatedly, “You’re so smart. You’re so capable. You would absolutely be a perfect governor, [whispers] but you’re a black woman.” As though they were giving me some fatal diagnosis.
Abrams is out of office. She never served in an executive capacity at the state or federal level. But that’s exactly the position former representative Beto O’Rourke (Tex.) is in, and yet he is taken seriously as a presidential contender. Abrams is right that people’s conception of a leader is heavily influenced by gender and race, but she’s also the best example that shows political insiders, moneymen and other politicians are often the least imaginative. What, in retrospect, seemed preordained (a change-oriented, eloquent Barack Obama would beat a status-quo, pedestrian Hillary Clinton), at the time, many considered absurd.
What about Abrams’s prospects as a presidential candidate? If former vice president Joe Biden falters and the rest of the field is floundering, with no clear consensus candidate (unlikely but possible), Abrams could enter the presidential race relatively late. But unless and until she sees Biden collapse without a credible alternative, she’s be wiser to play king- or queen-maker and to continue her quest for voting reform and for a fair 2020 Census count. Being one of more than 20 candidates in a race dominated by a former vice president is not the best use of her skills or energy.
That leaves her with a couple of options (having eliminated a Senate run in 2020): Run for governor again in 2022, or bide her time looking for a vice presidential slot on the 2020 ticket. The beauty of her situation is that she can do both. Keeping her visibility high, wowing crowds at speeches, impressing virtually all Democrats in interviews and leading on an issue near-and-dear to most Democrats (voter suppression) serve both purposes. And let’s face it, if Biden is on the top of the ticket his vice president would be the natural successor in 2024 (when Biden would be approaching 82, and perhaps willing to step down), or certainly in 2028.
Abrams, in the meantime, should continue practicing tough love with her party. She can remind it that party stars are often not white men. She can teach it a thing or two about setting up an organization well in advance of the election designed to engage younger and nonwhite voters. And she can show it how to forge a coalition including rural whites, younger voters, nonwhite voters and upscale suburbanites. Come to think of it, if she is not on the ticket (at the top or the bottom) in 2020, a Democratic president would be very smart to make her head of the Democratic National Committee. If anyone could revitalize a political party, it’s Stacey Abrams.