The Democratic presidential race has had as many twists and turns as a Formula 1 race track. However, as we head for the finish line, the race has taken the shape many predicted it would before it began.
A former vice president and favorite of the establishment wing is competing with the runner-up in the 2016 campaign and favorite of the radical wing. Flavor du jour candidates have had their day, but are now eliminated. So too, candidates who tried to run in the space between the liberal establishment and the far left.
Therefore, we need not resort to special explanations for the current state of the race. For example, we need not point to alleged sexism as the reason Elizabeth Warren failed to make it to the finals, as Warren herself has done.
In fact, it is those who want to blame (or credit) sexism who have the explaining to do. They need to explain why “sexist” Democrats nominated Hillary Clinton in 2016.
At the micro level, Warren had pluses and minuses as a candidate. On the plus side, she debated well, gave good speeches, is intelligent, and has substantial experience in the Senate.
On the minus side, she has an authenticity problem, having falsely claimed to be part Indian, among other lies. She also waffled on the key issue of health insurance. In addition, in spite of her best efforts to take on a “down home” persona, she undoubtedly is a member of the elite.
Perhaps another minus was the perception that Warren struck Democrats as the type of candidate who would be quick to attribute lack of popularity in part to sexism by Democrats.
But I believe Warren lost the race at what I call the macro level. The logic of the race, as described above, was always against her.
Returning to the micro level, I acknowledge that Warren lost votes because some Democrats, including certain female Dems I know, found her grating and maybe unlikable. Often during the debates, she seemed liked the student who knew how to spell tomato, but didn’t know how to stop.
It’s possible that there’s a gender component to complaints that Warren is grating or unlikable. But this sort of charge isn’t confined to female candidates. In 2016, for example, plenty of voters found Ted Cruz grating or unlikable, I believe. Moreover, I don’t recall hearing anyone describe Amy Klobuchar, Tulsi Gabbard, or Kamala Harris in such terms. But I did hear it of Bill de Blasio.
The numbers fail to back up claims that Warren was the victim of sexism. In Massachusetts, exit polling indicates that she lost the female vote by 10 points. She trailed Biden by 12 points among all voters. Numbers I came across from other states on Super Tuesday suggested approximately the same four point “gender gap.”
Given that Warren played the identity politics card, it’s normal that she would do somewhat better with female voters than with males. I believe that Warren’s pitching of her gender and the desire of some women to see a female president can easily explain a four point gap.
It’s possible, at least in theory, that some female Democratic voters cast gender-based votes against Warren. However, it seems to me that if Warren were the victim of sexist voting, we would see a substantially larger gender gap in her vote totals than the one that seems to occurred.
I can’t think of anyone who tried harder to win the 2020 Democratic nomination than Elizabeth Warren. Now that her run is over, it’s natural that she feels frustrated. She doesn’t want to blame herself for falling flat, nor does she want to concede that the logic of the race was always against her.
Fortunately, Warren’s identity-based framework gives her a handy excuse. It may work for her, but the rest of us shouldn’t buy it.