On Biden’s Success and Gillibrand’s Failure

As Jonathan Easley of The Hill reports, there is mounting evidence that President Trump is going to get slaughtered in the competition for women’s votes.

A Quinnipiac University survey released Wednesday found Trump trailing the top five Democratic contenders by between 9 points and 16 points overall, with each leading the president by 23 points or more among all women.

He no longer has much hope of winning among white women either, unless he can turn things around somehow. Yet, of all the implausible makeovers I can envision for Trump, becoming more appealing to women isn’t one of them. In truth, the shock of his election seems to have opened a pent-up national wound with the #MeToo movement which fought for accountability from dozens of men, including many whose documented sins didn’t come close to approaching what’s in the public record with respect to the president’s treatment of women.

In this national political environment, it seemed that Kirsten Gillibrand might be especially well positioned. Yet, despite making an aggressive and unapologetically feminist pitch to Democrats reeling over Trump and the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, she ended her campaign on Wednesday because she couldn’t attract enough donors or raise enough money to qualify for the September debate.

I’ll admit that I found her lack of traction in the campaign somewhat perplexing. She’s smart, charismatic, relatively youthful and energetic, experienced, physically attractive, and from a big state with lots of wealthy donors. On paper, she looks terrific as a national candidate. But she could only crack 2% support in a single poll over the summer, and now she’s out of the running.

I believe the most logical explanation is that the Democrats just ran a candidate against Donald Trump who unimaginably lost despite being better on paper in every way. And that candidate served in the exact same Senate seat that Gillibrand currently holds. Hillary Clinton had some advantages over Gillibrand, particularly in her level of experience. But the similarities between them, two white women representing New York in the Senate, were probably great enough that most Democratic voters instinctively thought that Gillibrand’s “identity” had been attempted already and come up short.

I think Clinton’s defeat is acting as a kind of counter-wind against the sails of all the women competing for the Democratic nomination, just as I think the fierce racial reaction against Barack Obama’s presidency is hurting the candidates of color. Despite a real appetite for change, Joe Biden remains stubbornly ahead in the polls. Despite a thirst for new youthful leadership, the oldest candidates (Biden, Sanders and Warren) are forming the top tier in the race. Notably, all of them are white.

It’s often been noted that the American public tends to whipsaw back and forth when picking a president, often choosing the near opposite of the last president in personality and character. After the trauma of Watergate, the voters chose the rectitude of Carter. The cool and intellectual Obama is sandwiched by the incurious George W. Bush and Donald Trump.

But I think the Democratic voters are following a different pattern, which is to avoid repeating the last mistake. For that reason, I think Gillibrand’s campaign was doomed from the start. I also think a kind of unacknowledged thirst to tamp down the racial divisions in the country is hurting the campaigns of otherwise attractive candidates like Cory Booker, Julian Castro and Kamala Harris. Basic risk aversion is probably hurting less qualified candidates like Pete Buttigieg.

The Democrats want to win, and that is making them gravitate to Biden. I don’t think this is so much because of anything Biden is doing as it is about who the Democrats are fearful of running in his stead.

I hear voters say that they don’t want to vote for another old white man all the time. But the less vocalized opinion is that they seem terrified of doing anything else.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com