“I am personally chagrined that the bulk of Democratic voters so quickly dismissed Elizabeth Warren’s policy plans and inexhaustible competence,” said Alfred, a reader from Washington state, in an email to The Fix.
“I’m sick about it,” said another, Lucy from California.
You didn’t hear such comments, in sentiment nor quantity, from supporters of Pete Buttigieg, who won Iowa, or Amy Klobuchar, another prominent woman in the race who beat Warren in New Hampshire.
Warren isn’t holding back from sharing in the crisis of faith some of her supporters are having. She has been candid about her own sadness on her way out.
“I know one of the hardest parts of this is all those pinkie promises and all those little girls who are going to have to wait four more years,” she said as she announced her decision. “That’s going to be hard.”
Warren also didn’t cede her endorsement yet, even though both the Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden campaigns want it. That’s leverage she holds over the candidates still in the race, and it could be a wild card, since it’s not immediately clear which candidate her supporters will choose.
So why is Warren’s departure resonating among Democrats, especially her followers, in a way that other terminated campaigns haven’t?
There’s not one answer, but rather a confluence of thorny issues that Warren, and her departure, bring up about the Democratic Party and its future.
The most obvious avenue to explore is her gender and whether voters are ready to elect a woman for president (and specifically Democratic voters after seeing Hillary Clinton lose). So let’s start there. Was Warren, as Hillary Clinton said Thursday, the victim of “unconscious and gendered language?”
“I think it affected all the women who ran,” Clinton told Vanity Fair. Warren was not the only woman in the race, but she was the last one in (not counting Tulsi Gabbard, whose campaign has never been competitive) — and the most prominent.
Research does show that women win elections overall at the same rate as men, but they have to clear more hurdles to do so. They have to be likable, whereas men don’t necessarily. They need to strike a balance between being confident and combative, but not too aggressive. Women have a harder time winning executive office, where they would be the primary decision-maker, than legislative office, according to research from the nonpartisan Barbara Lee Family Foundation. That might help explain why Warren’s loss comes after historic gains by women in Congress.
Words or phrases like “shrill” or “too ambitious” or “needy” followed Warren on the campaign trail, among voters and pundits. That’s the kind of “gendered language” Clinton is talking about: language, often with negative connotations, that is used almost exclusively to describe women.
Perhaps it’s not necessarily what Warren herself did but what she left behind in the race that has Democrats thinking: Now the race is down to two old white men, who will compete to try to defeat another old white man?
“It feels a little bit like a death knell in terms of having the prospect of women in our elections,” MSNBC’s Rachael Maddow said Thursday in an interview with Warren.
Warren was also someone a lot of Democratic primary voters liked, but just not enough: A February Washington Post-ABC News poll found 20 percent of voters named her as their second choice, the most of any other candidate, consistently.
That means that even though the votes weren’t there for her, there are more Democratic voters who might be genuinely bummed that she’s out. They would have liked for her to succeed, but for whatever reason put their support with someone else.
Warren also hasn’t shied away from talking about yet-to-be-resolved issues still swirling in this primary. Like:
- On whether the Democratic Party is too siloed: “You know, I was told at the beginning of this whole undertaking that there are two lanes, a progressive lane that Bernie Sanders is the incumbent for and a moderate lane that Joe Biden is the incumbent for,” she said as she announced her departure. “And there’s no room for anyone else in this. I thought that wasn’t right. But evidently, I was wrong.”
- On Sanders’s supporters, known for being more aggressive and hostile, especially online: “I think that’s a real problem with this online bullying and sort of organized nastiness,” she told Maddow on Thursday. ”… I’m talking about some really ugly stuff that went on.” She even compared Sanders with President Trump indirectly, saying Democrats can’t “follow that same kind of politics of division that Donald Trump follows.”
- On money in politics, exemplified by former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg, whom she basically single-handedly took down in a Nevada debate: “In my view he was absolutely the riskiest candidate for Democrats on the stage,” she told Maddow.
- And still more on gender and the dilemma of talking about it openly: “Gender in this race, you know, that is the trap question for every woman,” she told reporters Thursday. “If you say, ‘Yeah, there was sexism in this race,’ everyone says, ‘Whiner!’ And if you say, ‘No, there was no sexism,’ about a bazillion women think, ‘What planet do you live on?’ I promise you this: I’ll have a lot more to say on that subject later on."
Warren has built her career on being the unapologetic, persistent, squeaky wheel when she sees a problem that needs fixing. (See: financial reform, which made her a national figure after leading efforts to regulate big banks in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.) Based on the hours after her withdrawal, Democrats should probably expect that to be the case over what she and her sympathizers see as the issues with their party.