Whoa! What a difference two years makes! Twenty months to go before the next presidential campaign, but there are already five announced Democratic candidates who are women. Actually, right now there are an equal number of male and female candidates — five women and five men. Imagine that! Political analysts predict the final Democratic primary field will be much bigger than the 17-candidate Republican primary group, which included Donald Trump. I figured there would be a large group of Democrat candidates, but what does it say about me that I never thought there would be so many women?
I encouraged Kamala Harris to run before she took her Senate seat. I still think it would be a great loss for Elizabeth Warren to leave the Senate, but I’ll admit she’s making a strong case for her candidacy from Iowa to Puerto Rico. I’m surprised by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard jumping in, and by spiritual leader Marianne Williamson, who told Iowans the country needs “a moral and spiritual awakening,” but Kristin Gillibrand signaled her interest early on. Five women out on the hustings now, and who knows who may yet join them. Technically, Williamson, Warren and Gillibrand have only announced exploratory committees, while Gabbard and Harris bypassed that step. No word yet on whether a Republican woman will enter the fray to challenge the incumbent president, though I suspect former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley is being lobbied right now.
Before all these campaign announcements, I worried that the overall nastiness of the 2016 campaign would have given women candidates pause. But instead, it seems to have had the opposite effect. They’re prepared to be muddied by vicious sexism. They’ve seen it before. I'm convinced that even two decades into the 21st century and in the midst of a #MeToo movement, deep-seated anti-woman bias will lead a great many Americans to reject the idea of a woman as commander in chief no matter what. I could fund my fantasy Bora Bora vacation if I had a nickel for every time somebody insisted their opposition to presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton had nothing to do with her femaleness. Over and over I heard, “I don’t have a problem with a woman being president, just not this woman.”
Now, were they men, the aggregate experience and intellect of these 2020 presidential candidates would be hard to dismiss. But they are not, and this is still America — diverse 116th Congress notwithstanding.
All this being said, however, there is an imperceptible shift taking place now worth highlighting, particularly with several women as serious contenders for the presidency. And it’s this: Even if many American voters are predisposed not to support a woman candidate, they will no longer be taken aback to see more than one in the pool. A small step for women, a giant step for presidential womankind.