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A year ago, it seemed like a safe bet. Today, it feels further away than ever. 20 women consider what it would take to get there.
Most people who follow politics spent2016imagining an America where Mr. President became Madam President. But the reality today looks very different. The highest glass ceiling remains firmly in place, and President Donald Trumps theatrically alpha-male leadership style has made a crack seem even more remote. Plenty of women are floated as possible Democratic nominees in 2020, but none with as clear a shot as Hillary Clinton had; after her loss, some Democrats are even wondering whether they should run a man to give the party a better chance in the next cycle. On the Republican side, assuming Trump seeks reelection, a woman would not get the opportunity to run until at least 2024.
Will Americaeverelect a woman president? And what will it take?
We asked women (yes, all women) from a range of fields for their insights into why it hasnt happenedplus when, and how, that could change. Their answers drilled into the structure of American politics, the power of family dynamics in our decisions, the shifting preferences of voters and the pipeline of women candidates themselves. And if partisan competition is the only certainty in American politics today, champions of womens leadership have this to hold onto: Democrats and Republicans each claimed their party would get the first woman into the White House.
Patti Solis Doyle,Democratic strategist and a campaign manager for Hillary Clinton in 2008
Its hard to argue things are getting better for female candidates when America elected Donald grab them by the p—- Trump. But Ive been working in campaign politics for nearly 30 years, and I believe America will elect a woman presidentmaybe as soon as 2020.
Sexism costs every woman candidate votes. But Hillary Clinton did not lose the presidency in 2016 because she is a woman. She was the wrong candidate for the time. She personified the very institutions voters despised. Americans wanted more than change; they wanted disruption. Still, Clinton has certainly succeeded in making it easier for other women to run for office. When I managed her 2008 presidential run, I made the importance of electing a woman part of my pitch to activists, donors and supporters. If not now, when? If not, Hillary, who? At the time, no other woman had the political strength, the ability to raise money, the rsum or the name recognition. She was our only realistic hope.
Now, Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand (among others) represent major states, serve on powerful committees and speak directly to massive networks of activists and donors. Sheryl Sandberg distinguished herself at Harvard, McKinsey and the Treasury Department before crushing it at Google and Facebook. A retired woman general or admiral would destroy Trump on foreign policy. A woman mayor, governor or university president not yet on our radar screen could surprise us all.
The question is whether those women will win votes. When Trump tweeted about the millions of Womens March participants, Why didnt these people vote? it may be the only time I agreed with him. Clinton lost because turnout among minorities and Democratic women in 2016looked more like it did in 2004 (John Kerry) than 2008 or 2012 (Barack Obama). Thats on her, with honorable mention to James Comey.
But were already beginning to see a shift. Youd expect women to outnumber men at a womens march, but they also outnumbered men at the marches for climate and science. According to a recentPew survey, 58 percent of women are paying closer attention to politics since the 2016 election, compared with 46 percent of men. And with more women working (and heading households), womens issues like paid leave and child care matter more. The candidate who owns these issues will win the Democratic nomination, and that candidate is more likely to be a woman.
Look for a woman to win in 2024a Republican.
Liesl Hickey,Republican strategist and former executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee
Conventional wisdom has it that when America elects a woman president, shell be a progressive Democrat. But Republicans are better positioned to elect a woman first, and I believe it will be sooner rather than later.
Former New Jersey governor and Environmental Protection Agency administrator
I doubt we will see a female president in the next cycle, but there are a number of very qualified female governors who could easily be nominated after that. I dont see the Democrats going back right away to a female candidate after the last election (for no good reason), and the Republicans will have lots of debris to sort through before they can get elected again.
The Republican bench of potential female candidates for president is young and dynamic. They have diverse backgroundsexecutive, legislative and international. In President Donald Trumps Cabinet, there is U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, whose smarts and toughness on the world stage are backed up by a record of executive leadership in South Carolina. Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa and former Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire have the respect of key players in the party, and each has a keen understanding of an early primary state. There are also more Republican than Democratic female governors; Iowas Kim Reynolds and New Mexicos Susanna Martinez are well positioned for national office.
Another important factor: Female Republican politicians tend not to view women voters as a monolithic group that must adhere to a left-leaning agenda. Republican women in politics look a lot like women across Americaproblem-solvers who are willing to listenand they already are showing how this can win over voters. The 2024 election could be the year of a woman presidenta Republican woman president.
It can happenbut prepare for the backlash.
Marcia Chatelain, associate professor of history and African American studies at Georgetown University and author ofSouth Side Girls: Growing Up in the Great Migration
A black president and a Jesuitpope. Growing up, I was told I would never see these things come to pass. By 2013, after the election of a president named Barack and the pope we know as Francis, I was certain a woman president was next. I thought Hillary Clinton would win, not because America was ready to make history, but because her opponent was so risky, so inept, so morally bankrupt that I expected the nation would suppress its sexism momentarily.
I still believe a woman could be president, if she pursued what delivered the first black president: grassroots new voter registration efforts for youth and people of color. Sexism, of course, would still dictate her rise: She would need to be attractive, well-spoken, married with children, and experienced but without baggage.
Imagining a woman president means preparing for a calamitous wave of misogynistic backlash, like the backlash inspired by Obama and central to Donald Trumps win. When we elect a Madam President, I will wonder again: Was making history in the White House worth it?
It can happen in the next 20 years, if we get big money out of politics and promote diversity.
Nina Turner,former Ohio state senator and president of the advocacy group Our Revolution
The path continues to bedifficult,but I believe a woman will be elected president within the next 20 years. It will require the deconstruction of the gender and racial biases that permeate our culture and institutions. We currently have one set of rules for female candidates and another for males, and that hurts women seeking office. On top of that, the ungodly amounts of money required to win elections are a barrier to most women making the choice to run for office.
Getting big money out of politics would ensure that women have a fairer shot at winning elections, and a serious commitment from the media, the political class and the nation to evenhandedness could help level the playing field of public perception. Finally, we cant realistically elect a woman president without ensuring greater numbers and diversity among the women who run and win governorships. Consider that there has never been an African-American woman governor. The path to electing a woman president includes examining how women of color have been stereotyped, disregarded and locked out of certain offices.
Not until we can make sexism a public issue.
Susan Bordo,gender and womens studies professor at the University of Kentucky and author ofThe Destruction of Hillary Clinton
For centuries, women in politics have faced a classic double bind. Queen Elizabeth I felt she had to convince her subjects she had the heart and stomach of a king, but she couldnt present herself as too masculine (and thus unnaturala special problem for her, as she remained unmarried and childless), so she took care to promote herself as a loving, maternal figure, too, with all English subjects as her children. When Hillary Clinton teared up in a New Hampshire coffee shop after losing the 2008 Iowa primary, reporters declared that the icy control queen had finally shown she was human. But of course, if Clinton had spilled over with tears rather than simply welled up, her competency for officeespecially as commander-in-chief surely would have been questioned.
History suggests that the biggest obstacle to a woman aspiring to the highest office anywhere is simply that she is not a man. In every era, in every culture, as French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir pointed out, a man is the norm, and women are defined in terms of their difference from that norm. This is particularly true when it comes to our visual images and expectations for the head of state.
CNN contributor and former communications director for Senator Ted Cruz
America will be more likely to elect a female president when a woman campaigns as a smart, honest, trustworthy candidate and doesnt act like her gender is some special qualification. America is ready for a female president, but voters are going to wait until shes the right one.
Even in countries that have had female leaders for centuries, women who aspire to or hold higher office tend to be seen more as female leaders than as leaders, identified by the one thing that makes them most different from the norm. British Prime Minister Theresa May has been described as the new Hillary Clintonbut also as the British Angela Merkel and a new Iron Lady, referring to former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
At the same time, the woman who publicly criticizes sexism is seen as strident and politicizing. Women who have managed to get themselves elected have mostly either disclaimed the label of feministThatcher and Israels Golda Meiror equivocated, as Merkel has,acknowledgingcommon ground but not wanting to adorn myself with these feathers. Australias Julia Gillard is the rare example of a woman leader who denounced the sexism of her opponent and in public life generally, and also received widespread acclaim.
During the 2016 election, attention called to the overt misogyny against Clinton was too often shushed with scorn (on both the left and the right) as an effort to play the woman card. And we can already see familiar sexist tropes beginning to creep into comments about future presidential contenders such as Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren. Until we make sexism a public issueno less important to confront than fake news or voter suppressionwe are unlikely to see a woman occupy the office that historically, and in our imaginations, has been reserved for a man.
The odds are low, given the absence of women in politics.
Marianne Cooper,sociologist at the Clayman Institute at Stanford University and lead researcher for Sheryl SandbergsLean In
Hillary Clinton was one ofthe most qualified presidential candidates ever, and Donald Trump is the first president with zero prior experience in either the armed forces or government. Its a common pattern: To be deemed qualified,research shows, women need to provide more evidence of their competence than do men. This means that for a woman to break through the highest and hardest glass ceiling, she is going to have to be eminently and unassailably qualified.
The good news is that, when it comes to education, women are getting the degrees often required for higher political office: They earn about60 percentof all bachelors and masters degrees and the majority of doctorates.
But when it comes to political experience, they dont match up nearly as well. Women represent 20 percent of Congress. They hold about a quarter of seats in state legislatures, and that percentage has stayed about the same since 2000. The number of women in elected statewide executive office (governors, as well as lieutenant governors, attorneys general and other such positions) has actually dropped since then and now stands at just 24 percent. And a meager six governors are women. If Clinton had won, women could have played key roles in her administration, positioning them for political candidacy; instead, Trumps Cabinet has only four women.
Because this bench of female candidates is not very deep, the odds of a woman president appear depressingly low in the near term. At the same time, the seeds of change may have been planted in Clintons defeat. EMILYs List reported talking with 900 women interested in running for elected office in 2016. This year, the organization has already heard from 11,000. Among young girls, the sting of Clintons upset may serve as inspiration to enter politics when they grow up. We likely wont have a woman serve as president anytime soon. But just think about the girls who went to bed thinking Clintons victory was certainbut who woke up to their mothers crying. The nasty women in training who participated in the Womens March or watched it on TV. Id place a pretty big bet on them.
Not soon: Gender stereotypes run too deep.
Susan T. Fiske, professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University
Americans have managed toelect a black president and, decades ago, a Catholic one. Its not hard to imagine electing a Jewish or Mormon president soon, and likewise an Asian or Latino one. But a woman president is another matter. Why? The prejudices around women run surprisingly deep and are hard to budge.
My labscross-cultural researchhas not found universal prejudices along racial and ethnic linessuggesting that different societies invent different stereotypes depending on accidents of history. These are more arbitraryand more changeable. Across the planet, however, we have found universal gender prejudices.
We will elect the first female president when we can all acknowledge that the men in charge are the reason women arent yet full partners in the economic well-being of this country.
Gender prejudices are shaped by family dynamics, and that makes them harder to unseat. People usually have women in their families, and while men and women are marvelously interdependent, men almost universally have higher status. Around the world, we find that people deal with this tension using a system that my co-author, Peter Glick, likens to a protection racket: Women who rebelsuch as feminists, lesbians and ambitious professionalsare punished, while women who cooperate with men and support their higher status are rewarded by being cherished and protected. When men and women agree to the protection racketas sexist as it ispeace and stability ensue.
As society changes by becoming more inclusive, a racial, ethnic or religious groups place in society can also change without disrupting our family arrangements. Not so with gender: People cant change their assumptions about men and womens complementary-but-separate domains because it would disrupt family life.
With this view of women so deeply embedded in the home, were not likely to see much change to societal gender stereotypes anytime soonin the living room or the voting booth. Still, demographic changes are working in womens favor. As more women excel in college and careers, sexist people will encounter them at home and at work, destabilizing the protection racket. And theres nothing that reforms a sexist like having a daughter mistreated, maybe even in her run for president.
Americas political structure might actually make it harder.
Farida Jalalzai,interim head and professor of political science at Oklahoma State University and author ofShattered, Cracked and Firmly Intact: Women and the Executive Glass Ceiling Worldwide
Why is the worlds most powerful democracy still among the roughly 60 percent of countries that have never been led by a woman? And will that ever change?
I have analyzed patterns in female political leadership across the world, and, unfortunately for the United States, Americas valued democratic institutions and processesa dominant presidency filled by election, rather than appointmentmight actually be making it harder to elect a female president.
In my research, I have found that women, compared with their male counterparts, more often gain offices through appointment as opposed to popular election. Few women secure presidencies where they do not share power with a prime minister, and women leaders in dual systems often occupy the weaker role.
Women also disproportionately govern in parliamentary systems, where they face significant vulnerabilities, namely being ousted at any point and having to exercise power more collaboratively (often viewed as a more feminine mode of governance). Among female presidents who have been elected directly, most, with some exceptions, are the relatives of men who were presidents or other major political figures, such as Cristina Fernndez de Kirchner of Argentina.
America will be living with these structural factors for the foreseeable future: Its unlikely that the United States will change the way it elects presidents anytime soon, and the strong single executive is a direct outgrowth of the Constitution.
Given that system, the best route for women is to work to change the stereotypes surrounding the presidency and improve the pipeline of women in politics.
The nations highest office continues to be associated with masculine issues, like military and foreign affairs, and traits, like toughnessa view that could perhaps be changed, given that real presidential successes often come through collaborative processes like working with Congress. And there is still a short supply of women in office as legislators, governors and candidates.
Until those issues are addressed, the United States will likely struggle to join the company of the dozens of countries that have found a place for at least one woman at the executive desk.
Electing a woman means we cant think of the presidency as inherently masculine.
Kelly Dittmar, assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University-Camden, scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at the Eagleton Institute of Politics and author ofNavigating Gendered Terrain: Stereotypes and Strategy in Political Campaigns
Electing a woman will requiredisrupting gender norms and rethinking what counts as presidential. Women and men alike have begun this work. Shirley Chisholm ran for the office in 1972 as a black woman, to demonstrate the sheer will and refusal to accept the status quo. In 2008, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama further challenged the image of and expectations for presidential leadership. Eight years later, Clinton more fully embraced her gender as an electoral asset.
Of course, 2016 also revealed backlash to this progress: Donald Trump bolstered the idea of presidential masculinity in his rhetoric, behavior and even body language, and it resonated with many of his voters. Over the arc of history, however, we have witnessed greater public acceptance of gender disruption in the presidency. In 1964, Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine won just 227,000 votes in her bid for the Republican nomination, while Clinton won nearly 66 million votes in the 2016 general electiona majority.
For voters expectations to truly changeenough for a woman to winmore Chase Smiths, Chisholms and Clintons will need to seek the presidency. And presidential candidates, including men, must avoid running on stereotypically masculine terms.
Maybebut only if politicians start to focus on class.
Joan C. Williams,professor and director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law
Sexism played a role in the 2016electionno doubt about that. Not only are women required to providemore evidence of competence than white mento be seen as equally competent, but Hillary Clinton also faced tightrope bias, which demands that women be modest, helpful, sympathetic and nice in order to be liked. Not exactly the qualities we prioritize in a commander in chief. Donald Trump certainly had a likability problem, but it didnt matter. A woman whos not a good woman is a bad person (lock her up), but a man whos not a good man can still be a real man: blustery and bullying, Trump to a T.
To turn things around for women (and everyone else), we need to focus on another big factor at play in Clintons defeat: class. The loss of good blue-collar jobs in America fuels the attraction of Trumps own brand of hyper-masculinity, because men tend toramp up displays of manlinesswhen their masculinity is threatened, and many non-elite men feel the breadwinner role slipping out of reach. For them, the change promised by a woman president came across as a threat. Clinton-style feminism didnt resonate with many white working-class women, either: Theytrended heavilyfor Trump. One reason was her focus on the glass ceiling, a metaphor that typically demands access for elite women to jobs dominated by elite men. Why should working-class women care who gets elite jobs they are not qualified for? They dont.
If working-class voters dont see serious attention paid to the issues driving economic populism, then Trumps aggrieved masculinity will remain the most appealing option, and female candidates are going to be stuck. So anyone who wants to protect womens rights to equal treatment and abortion access, and wants someone to fight for affordable child care and family leave, needs to care whether Democrats can make inroads into the ocean of rural and Rust Belt red that delivered the 2016 election to Trump.
And if progressives stop to listen, they will hear that many Trump voters share their outrage about growing income inequality. Not just working-class whites, but non-elites of all races care deeply about the decline of the American dream. Advocates of womens equality should care, too: Improving the prospects of Americans without college degrees will help millions of women by providing them economic stabilitya key feminist goal. Will it be a woman president who accomplishes this? All I can say is … I hope so.
A changing electorate means it will happen soon.
Page Gardner, president and founder of the Voter Participation Center
Theres no doubt in my mindthat America will have a woman president. The question is when the right candidate will speak to the needs of the fast-growing parts of the electorate.
Former U.S. representative from New York
That millions of women voted for a self-confessed sexual assaulter as president shows how far we have to go. The solution is more women governors and Cabinet members, and ending the treatment of women in the media as sex objects.
The 2016 election was the first time that the rising American electoratethe growing population of unmarried women, people of color and millennials in the United Statesmade upthe majority of all votes cast. In a sense, these voters have alreadyelecteda female president: 89 percent of African Americans, 66 percent of Latinos, 63 percent of unmarried women, 65 percent of Asian Americans and 55 percent of voters under age 29 cast ballots for Hillary Clinton.
This is not to say that these Americans vote based on gender. They make up a significant portion of the white working class, and a higher percentage of them voted for Barack Obama in 2012 than for Clinton in 2016. Its clear the RAE is open to voting for a womanthey already haveif she engages on their social, economic and cultural interests.
These voters will only play a bigger role in deciding national elections as their numbers grow, so candidates have no choice but to appeal to them. The total number of RAE votersroseby more than 8 million between 2012 and 2016. Its share of the voting-eligible population is estimated to increase by 2 percent in 2018, and to grow every subsequent year.
Crucially, RAE voters need to register and turn out if they are going to exert their full influence. The Voter Participation Centers data show that right now, there are nearly 133 million unmarried women, people of color and young people eligible to vote59 percent of all Americans. In the 2016 election, however, they made up just 53 percent of actual voters. It doesnt help that some of these voters are being targeted by laws and administrative actions designed to deny them access to the ballot.
But if we encourage Americas young, minority and female voters to exercise their political power, that power would be overwhelmingand might usher in our first female president sooner than one might think.
Expect a woman to be nominated in 2020a fitting year.
Marjorie Spruill, historian and author ofDivided We Stand: The Battle Over Womens Rights and Family Values That Polarized American Politics
It is way too soon to guess at theresults of the 2020 election, but not too soon to predict that a woman will benominated. Why? While most women, liberal and conservative, generally care more about a candidates policies than her or his sex, women are mad and motivated.
That Hillary Clinton is walking in the woods while Donald Trump and his band of brothers in the Cabinet and Congress roll back womens rights is infuriatingas is some Democrats demand that the party eschew identity politics and focus on the working class. The Womens March and subsequent activism suggest that womens rights supporters of all ages now understand that their fight is not over.
There is another factor few pundits have noticed: 2020 will be the 100th anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment, which established womens suffrage and, supposedly, womens political equality. Americans will be shocked that in the centennial year women remaindrastically underrepresentedin politics, including the highest office in the land. This will put pressure on Democrats to nominate a woman. And if Trump becomes ineligible to run, who knows? A rising GOP star, like the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, might get to run sooner than expected.
Yes, because the rules have changed.
Jennifer Palmieri, communications director for the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2016 and author of the forthcomingDear Madam President: An Open Letter to the Women Who Will Run the World
Breaking the glass ceiling wasnt top of mind when I first joined Hillary Clintons campaign. We had already elected the first black president, and, from my perspective as a white woman, electing a woman seemed easy in comparison. I was wrong. I didnt consider, when viewed from the arc of human history, what a revolutionary concept it is to have a female in charge. All of our models for a person in power, and certainly for the American president, are based on men. That reality gave our campaign an awkward charge: We had to prove that Clinton could do the job of president, as it had always been done by men. For better or worse, we proved just that. But forcing her into the ill-fitting model of a male leader robbed her of some of her humanity and robbed all of us of a more fully realized sense of leadershipone that combines the best qualities of men and women leaders.
As disappointing as the election was for many, I think a lot of women feel empowered in the aftermath. Depending how you keep score, a woman has already won on an election for president. It will happen again, and I dont accept the view that it cant happen as soon as 2020. If we have learned anything in the past year, its that there are no rules in American politics. In 2016, the woman candidate played the game the way it had always been playedby the rules as established by generations of menand it didnt work. Now, women are prepared to create a new model of leadership in our own image, not a mans. I think what America will be looking for in 2020 is someone who can bring the country together. That could be a woman or it could be a man. But it will be someone who embraces the best leadership qualities Americans see in ourselvesmen and women both.
Its happening soon: Female candidates have what voters want.
Celinda Lake,Democratic strategist, and Barbara Lee,president of The Barbara Lee Family Foundation
Some people argue that HillaryClintons loss will make it harder for other women to run for president. But the current political environment is actually very well suited for a female presidentas soon as 2020.
The top character trait voters wanted in 2016 waschange. Clinton was associated with the status quo for a number of unique