One explanation is that voters were so cowed by Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016 and so convinced that her gender accounted for the loss that they were never willing to take what they thought was a “risk” on another woman, whether it was Warren or any of the others. The image in voters’ heads of what a winning candidate looked like in 2020 was not an educated, experienced woman. That ingrained sexism, reinforced by media story lines about “electability," might be more difficult to root out than we imagined when the race started with six female candidates.
Another explanation is that the style of politics — framing experience, logical arguments, preparation, intellectual rigor as critical — that many women practice is simply not what voters want in a presidential candidate. Warren excelled at a list of qualities that are not central to voters’ decision-making. Voters want emotion — anger or uplift, inspiration or fear — and as hard as “A-student” women rely on politics from the neck up and not from the heart, they will find it difficult to succeed.
There is another explanation for all this: Warren was not a good strategic politician. She admits she was not “born a politician” but rather born a fighter. She committed a series of tactical blunders — the DNA test; clinging to Medicare-for-all but then struggling to defend it (with a controversial funding plan), only to back away from it later; and refusing to go after Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). She never quite figured out that the debates and the policies were not ends unto themselves but rather a means to creating a winning coalition.
Yet another explanation might be that she suffered from the same malady that afflicted Pete Buttigieg: She could not attract nonwhite voters. Her supporters were largely people like her — very progressive, white and college-educated women. That is not sufficient in a Democratic presidential primary, sadly even in her home state, where she came in a disappointing third.
It might be a mix of all these factors that accounts for the disappointing Warren campaign. It was one that progressive, mostly white and college-educated journalists liked, but it did not have the emotional oomph and the reach needed to excel in the primary.
As of this writing, she remains in the race. One has to wonder to what end, however, her sticking around serves. Even if former vice president Joe Biden does not get a majority, she will be in a poor position with so many fewer delegates to present herself as the compromise in a contested convention. It might be that she wants to use her delegates as a bargaining chip to get onto a ticket as the VP. But one cannot help but sense that she does her long-term reputation and relevance no favors by remaining in the race and losing more states.