Elections

Elizabeth Warren in Denial

Sen. Elizabeth Warren talks to reporters with her husband Bruce after informing her staff that she is withdrawing from the presidential race in Cambridge, Mass., March 5, 2020. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)
Of course, the explanation for her loss must be sexism.

Elizabeth Warren cannot believe that she was defeated by the campaigns of Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders — she insists, instead, that she was defeated by their testes.

We sympathize, truly. It is difficult to believe, and must be tough to accept, that any barely competent political operation could be defeated by the steadiness and freshness of Joe Biden or by the suavity and wide-ranging appeal of Bernie Sanders. And Senator Warren likes to think of herself as more than barely competent but omnicompetent, competence personified — “competence incarnate,” as Megan Garber calls her in The Atlantic. Those who have watched Senator Warren campaign (awkwardly) or try to triangulate a health-care program (beseechingly) or explain away that weird Cherokee-princess stuff (cringe-inducingly) might be forgiven for doubting this particular incarnation.

Of course, the explanation must be sexism. It can’t be Russian trolls on Facebook — this is the Democratic primary we are talking about here! Senator Warren says it is sexism, her amen corner in the media says it is sexism, all right-thinking people say it is sexism — and what this says about Democratic-primary voters is of some interest.

If you cut the data just right, you can make a bit of a case. A study of “hostile sexism” among Democratic-primary voters (“hostile sexism” is denoted by affirming such statements as, “Most women interpret innocent remarks or acts as being sexist,” a formulation in which there is just a hint of Kafka) found that the Democrats with the highest “hostile sexism” scores preferred two teste-bearing candidates, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, while those with the lowest hostile-sexism scores ranked Warren and Biden about even but took a low view of Sanders. (Pete Buttigieg didn’t break 10 percent among the most hostile, the least hostile, or even the middle.) The Warren downslope intersects the Sanders upslope right in the middle of the hostile-sexism chart, but at no point in that chart does Warren actually lead Biden.

The feminists’ lamentation here is predictable: “Just give us a woman! Just give a woman a chance.” And the problem for Warren is the same problem that faced Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2016: Americans are open to a woman — but that does not mean they are open to this woman. Many Democrats said that they worried about Warren not because she was a woman but because she reminds them of a particular woman — the one who lost to Donald Trump in 2016, an experience the Democrats are, understandably, not eager to repeat.

But a woman president? We think Americans would welcome it. If it were possible to plant a batch of Margaret Thatcher seeds in Oklahoma or Idaho, Republicans would be happy with that harvest of presidential candidates. Nikki Haley often is spoken about as a potential Republican nominee, and one need not deny the existence of sexism categorically (which would be foolish) to believe that her biggest obstacles to the Republican nomination or the presidency would have nothing to do with her sex. Democrats, too, would surely be overjoyed to elect a woman president, provided . . . well, there’s the hang-up.

Warren is a poor candidate, one who managed to combine the worst ideological excesses and woke silliness of the Sanders tendency (remember that weird stuff about recruiting a “young trans person” to screen her Cabinet picks?) with the uninspiring lukewarmness of the so-called centrist candidates. She comes off like a 1990s-vintage New Democrat who has attempted to retrofit herself for the post-Occupy Democratic Party — which is what she is — basically strapping on a pair of rhetorical Birkenstocks. It is said to be prima facie evidence of sexism to suspect the ambition of a female candidate, but the abjectness of Warren and the obviousness of her cynical careerism is there in full view nonetheless, and her chromosomes present us with no reason to fail to see it or to understand it for what it is. Some of the people who scoffed at Mayor Pete for attempting to jump from the South Bend mayor’s office to the White House might have had ugly attitudes about homosexuals, which is lamentable — but Buttigieg’s candidacy was nonetheless preposterous.

Women have been doing very well in congressional races for years — and in executive races, too, as the governors of Kansas, South Dakota, Maine, New Mexico, Michigan, Iowa, Alabama, Oregon, etc., can attest. It is worth keeping in mind that the data sets of American presidents (45) and American presidential elections (58) both are pretty small. Barack Obama’s electoral success did not tell us very much about racism in the United States — only that being black is not an insurmountable obstacle. We should be careful, and not strident, about casting aspersions on the American electorate, or even on that daft and inexplicable subset of it that dominates the Democratic primary.

There were plenty of excellent reasons for Elizabeth Warren to lose the primary, though we confess we are hard-pressed to think of any good reasons why Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders should win.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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