There’s that question again in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election. Is America ready to accept a woman president?
The question loomed even bigger when President Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee recently crowed loudly that it was breaking records with fundraising for Trump’s re-election campaign. A big part of his campaign cash is coming from women.
Then there was yet another poll that showed that one-fifth of Democrats, that’s Democrats, say they would “absolutely” vote for a woman presidential contender. If you read between the lines, does that mean that most Democrats have some reservations about Democratic presidential candidates Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar or Kirsten Gillibrand? A sobering survey found that a paltry 13% of voters claim they will vote for a woman presidential contender in 2020.
Memories are still fresh of the mild shock of the 2016 presidential election. The shock wasn’t that so many women voted for Trump. Those women were largely written off as women who were take your pick: less educated, evangelical, blue collar, rural, feared job loss like their husbands and male significant others, were filled with overt and latent racial and anti-immigrant bigotry, or just plain, old fashioned loathed Hillary Clinton.
What can’t be easily waved away is that almost half of women who seemingly didn’t fit the small town, small mind rube branding, voted for him. They were college-educated, middle-class women who lived in the suburbs. They not only didn’t like Hillary, but also didn’t like the idea of a woman sitting in the Oval Office.
While it’s true that women scored big against male rivals in the 2018 mid-term elections, they handily won many local and congressional offices. That’s not the White House.
The brutal reality in 2016 was that Clinton was not simply another marked man presidential candidate. She was a marked woman presidential candidate. One media investigative team even compiled hundreds of the most outrageous digs about Clinton from the 2008 campaign from assorted commentators, male and female. Not much changed eight years after that.
The vulgarities were heaped on top of the hard-headed belief of many men and women that a woman just doesn’t have the right stuff to be the nation’s commander in chief. In one poll, nearly 70% of men and women were lukewarm at best in answering the question whether they thought women were “respected” in politics.
One out of four respondents flatly said that there would never be a woman president, and the most optimistic thought it would take at least another five years before that happened.
Even this seemed to be a step up from polls during the 2008 campaign that consistently showed that far more Americans had a bigger problem voting for a woman for president than an African American. The worst part of that then was that if anyone dared make a racial crack about then-Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama they’d have been pounded into the sand as the worst kind of bigot.
The gender gap was first identified and labeled in the 1980 presidential contest between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter. That year Reagan got more than a 20 percent bulge in the margin of male votes over Carter. Women voters, by contrast, split almost evenly down the middle in backing both Reagan and Carter.
Many of the men that backed Reagan made no secret about why they liked him. His reputed toughness, firmness and refusal to compromise on issues of war and peace fit neatly into the often time stereotypical male qualities of professed courage, determination and toughness. The gender split is always apparent when there’s a crisis such as a brush fire war, a physical conflict, or the threat of a terrorist attack.
The backstory, though, in that gender split is that many women held the same views about whether a woman could firmly handle a crisis of war, or a terrorist attack or assure national security, and a strong defense. These are the issues that are perceived as issues that demand “toughness” that supposedly only a man in the Oval Office can handle.
The term that has been bandied about to explain why so many women seemingly vote against their interests is “internalized misogyny.” What else can you call it for a woman to scream herself into an apoplectic fit at a Trump rally for a guy who brags about mauling women and then rams that abuse home in public policy from his Supreme Court nominees to savaging abortion rights. The term is just another way of saying women are totally cowered and conditioned to buy into the world view held by many men on how the world should be ordered. That is with them calling the shots.
Just how much has changed between 2016 and 2020 with the women who backed Trump for whatever reason, is tough to say. One thing is certain, the answer to that question will go far toward determining whether the White House is still a man’s thing.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His latest book is “Who Can Beat Trump: Campaign 2020” (Amazon Kindle). He also is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One and the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.