If you’ve ever covered a presidential primary, then you know that there are two things you can always find at the Iowa State Fair: a pork chop on a stick and some nimrod who will say whatever it is you are hoping to hear. Nimrods love politics, and I don’t think that Iowa and New Hampshire necessarily have especially nimrodic populations — but those states enjoy the attention that comes with being first, so their nimrods are disproportionately influential.
I’m thinking of this because of the silly dispute between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Warren accuses Sanders of telling her that a woman cannot win the 2020 presidential election, and Sanders insists that he said no such thing. It is difficult to know whom to believe in this particular he-said/she-said. Warren is a cynical liar who is entirely capable of making something like this up, but Sanders is a barking mad loon who says whatever happens to be rattling around in that zany Maoist glitter-bomb he calls a brain, and there isn’t very much that would come out of his mouth that would surprise me.
The narrative serves Warren’s ambitions. I don’t think it really is the case that the American electorate is packed to the gills with people who don’t think a woman could be president, although Emily’s List offers a catalogue of Iowa nimrods saying that. Sample: Des Moines-area nimrod Emily Van Kirk, 22, says: “I think against Trump any woman is going to have difficulty with electability, that’s just kind of a reality we have to contend with.” Etc. That was at a Warren event, mind you. Adrienne Elrod, a nimrod who worked for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2016 campaign, says: “Right now there is this fear and concern that we have to pick the safest candidate. Unfortunately, that caution does transition into, ‘Can a woman take him on?’”
Warren would prefer to talk about the question of whether “a woman” can be president rather than the more relevant question — Whether Senator Elizabeth Warren can or should be president — because the answer to the meaningless question is positive and obvious, whereas the answer to the substantive question is not.
But nimrods gonna nimrod.
Of course a woman can be president of the United States. Of course a woman could beat Donald Trump. But Hillary Rodham Clinton was not that woman, and it is far from obvious that Elizabeth Warren is.
Mrs. Clinton’s problem has never been that she is a woman; her problem was and is that she is a corrupt mediocrity who cannot actually operate very effectively at the rarefied height of political prominence to which she was carried upon the coattails of her husband, one of the most gifted politicians of his generation. Mrs. Clinton might have made a pretty good member of the Philadelphia city council; she became a national figure by occupying the high office currently held by Melania Trump. Her being a woman has only been relevant to her political career because Bill Clinton is a heterosexual. (An enthusiastic one, if I’m remembering the Nineties correctly.)
Warren faces a different set of problems, mostly unrelated to her sex: She is dishonest and everybody knows it. She has based her reputation on being a policy wonk with a plan for everything, but her plans are mostly shallow and meretricious, and she herself does not seem to take them very seriously. And she doesn’t know how to take out Sanders and clear the left lane without going full kook; accusing him of saying something sexist to her is a way of trying to gently #MeToo him out of the race rather than trying to get to his left. Out-kooking Bernie is no small thing.
So Warren has some challenges.
The “can a woman win?” conversation is a dumb distraction, but that’s probably good for Warren, who could use a good distraction just about now.