Women are underrepresented in U.S. politics. Although they make up half the country’s population, 20 percent of Congress and a third of the Supreme Court is female. We’ve never had a female president or vice president.
Which helps explain why, at a CNN Town Hall on Wednesday, former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper was asked whether he would choose a female running mate if they were the Democratic nominee for president.
“Of course,” he told CNN’s Dana Bash.
But then he tried to flip the question on its head. “I’ll ask you another question,” he said. “How come we’re not asking, more often, the women, ‘Would you be willing to put a man on the ticket?’ ”
That response drew swift reaction on social media, where people called his remark tone-deaf.
Activist and food blogger Jerry James Stone tweeted: “oh @Hickenlooper, this is an easy q to answer. What percentage of the US population is women. And what percentage of Congress is women? Women are underrepresented. Men are not. It is that simple.”
Derek Johnson, executive director of Global Zero, tweeted: “I don’t know, maybe because men aren’t underrepresented in politics and wield disproportionate power in this country? This isn’t hard, @Hickenlooper.”
Democratic strategist Symone Sanders, former press secretary for Bernie Sanders, tweeted: “There has literally never been a ticket in either one of the major political parties without a man. LITERALLY NEVER. E V E R. That is why we aren’t asking the women about men on their ticket, Governor. Geesh.”
They’re right that Hickenlooper’s question missed the point. The top ticket of the major U.S. parties have included just three women ever, even though, as The Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell previously wrote, women are more likely to vote than men.
After the pushback, Hickenlooper’s team offered an explanation. His spokeswoman Lauren Hitt said that he was “making the point that the media too often discounts the chances of women winning the nomination themselves.”
Historically that may have been true. But several women are running for the Democratic Party’s nomination, and have received significant attention and coverage. Hillary Clinton was treated as the front-runner for the Democratic nomination in 2008 and 2016, when she ultimately secured it. Hickenlooper’s explanation just doesn’t hold up.
And Hickenlooper, a centrist businessman, could have just as easily asked: “Why aren’t women asked if they will run another woman? America is ready for both of its top leaders to be women!”
This far out from the general election, Hickenlooper’s response is not likely to cause him major issues, but it’s not likely to help much, either. If he is hoping to break through to voters, he is going to have to communicate that he is as aware of the issues affecting women as many in the base are demanding from their party’s next leader.