Four Democrat senators are providing a lesson right now that their party very likely doesn’t want to learn. The dirt-napped campaigns of Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Kamala Harris (D-CA), the self-inflicted sputtering of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and the eerily silent run of Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) should tell a party obsessed with identity politics that, in 2019, it is simply not enough. A presidential aspirant has to offer more than just gender, even in a primary race dominated by progressive talking points.
Flop of the Campaign Season
A November 2018 CNBC article aptly set the stage for the march of the feminine four. “The [coming] presidential election will demonstrate that the electoral power of women is strong in the Democratic Party,” Kelly Dittmar, a political scientist at Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics, told the network. “For men who are running in 2020, particularly on the Democratic side, there will be increased accountability in terms of their perception and actions towards gender equity. They will have to answer to it more, through concrete policies and engagement with female voters.”
Dittmar leaned heavily on ill-defined evidence of an alleged Pink Wave in suburbia that was said to have spurred Democrat victories in the 2018 midterm elections. Despite plenty of data showing that women do not vote as a singular bloc – and 2018 did not prove to be an exception to that data – progressives were keen to cast a winning narrative to drive the push for a female nominee for 2020. Perhaps it is this very mentality that explains the lackluster performances by these female senators.
The CNBC article successfully foresaw that Harris, Gillibrand, Warren, and Klobuchar would all jump into the 2020 field. “Frankly, a woman of color is going to have an opening if she decides to pursue the presidential bid, and Harris can craft a credible argument that would broaden her base beyond just demographics and her biography,” University of Minnesota political scientist Lawrence R. Jacobs told CNBC. Jacobs was certainly correct on the first part of his analysis but woefully off with the second. Harris was never able to increase her appeal and neither race nor gender had anything to do with it. After being elevated to top-tier status after a successful first debate showing, Harris froze in the brightening spotlight that shone her way, failing to articulate a resonant message as to just what she was offering voters. She didn’t even make it to January 2020.
“Gillibrand has pointed out that the political energy among Democratic women this year is unprecedented,” CNBC said, “even compared to the energy when Hillary Clinton ran to be the first women president.” Apparently, Gillibrand was banking on that energy being enough, but she ran an unfocused and undisciplined campaign and was widely criticized for tailoring her policy beliefs towards the feelings of whomever she was speaking to at a given moment. She was gone before the end of August, leaving behind only awkward reality TV moments that saw her serving drinks at a gay bar and holding a contest in which a lucky winner would get to down a whiskey with the senator.
Who I Am, Not What I Do
“It’s time for women to go to Washington and fix our broken government, and that includes a woman at the top,” Sen. Warren is quoted as saying in that same CNBC article. Going back further reveals more evidence of Warren’s determination to lean on image over substance. A 2015 article from the liberal publication The Atlantic noted that Warren was more known for national campaign stumping than for legislative heft. “I don’t want to go to Washington to be a co-sponsor of some bland, little bill nobody cares about,” the magazine quotes Warren as saying in 2011 after winning her Senate bid. “I don’t want to go to Washington to get my name on something that makes small change at the margin.”
“Warren’s real power lies in her outsized influence, not just for a freshman senator, but for virtually any elected official in Washington,” The Atlantic offered as a defense for her paltry record of accomplishments on Capitol Hill. While Warren insists she has a plan for just about every major issue, her most prominent policy declaration in the primary race to date is an extravagant “Medicare For All” proposal; a scheme now widely criticized by rival candidates. Backpedaling from that and reeling from revelations of her fundamental inability to be honest about her personal history, Warren tellingly retreated to the safe ground of progressive gender bromides. Prattling on in Iowa on December 3 about a pink Planned Parenthood scarf she wore at President Trump’s inauguration and the Women’s March in 2017, an amped-up Warren vowed, “I’m gonna be wearing that scarf when I’m sworn as president of the United States.”
Finally, there is the enduring mystery of Amy Klobuchar’s political strategy. Surfing to eventual victory by making not a ripple in the primary waters appears to be her plan. Her one moment – such as it was – came on November 11 when she called out South Bend, IN, Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s extremely thin qualifications for the presidency. She could not resist playing the victim card as she did so, however, bemoaning the suspicion that perhaps the female senators in the field are “held to a different standard.”
“It would be unprecedented for a group of high-profile women to spar in a party presidential primary in the same year,” CNBC gushed last year. Well, it happened and it wasn’t very eventful. This is not to draw any broad conclusions about female presidential candidates but to make a simple observation that Democrats either cannot or will not accept: Women are not a lockstep political entity. There is as wide a range of diverse, interesting and, yes, even dull and flawed personalities and political opinions as you will find in any large pool of human beings. Democrats should stop trying to paste together a mythical pink wave and attempt to reach as many of those unique humans as possible through the strength of their ideas and policy proposals. Don’t hold your breath.
Read more from Joe Schaeffer.