The wailing of mourners fills the air. When Elizabeth Warren withdrew from the Democratic primary field on Thursday, the dream that a woman would present Donald Trump with a notice of eviction from the White House was snuffed out. What a cup of karma that would have been for today’s misogynistic Republican Party to have had to choke down the morning after the election in November. To be sure, church bells should still ring joyfully out across the land if Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders gives Trump the boot—I will happily climb to a belfry and pull the rope until my arms drop—but large numbers of Democratic women are bitterly disappointed that any 46th President of the United States to emerge from this 4-year cycle will be the 46th President with a…well, let’s say a Y chromosome. It will not be Warren or Amy Klobuchar or Kamala Harris, to name just the three brightest stars of the original Democratic field’s women. Lots of Democratic men, me included, also feel the ululating impulse. The first woman nominee, Hillary Clinton, will not be properly avenged for the sordid, all-too-masculine nastiness that was devised for her in 2016 by right-wing operatives working hand-in-glove with the Russian secret services and its Wikipedia instruments.
So it’s to cheer myself up, as well as others of like mind, when I quote a Turkish proverb: Bir vurmakla ağaç devrilmez. “A tree isn’t toppled with one blow.”
Consider this. Over the last four decades of presidential elections, a total of 63 credible candidates have been on the ballot in the Democratic primaries and caucuses. Of these, 57 have been men while six have been women, as follows:
1980: 6 men
1984: 9 men
1988: 7 men
1992: 9 men
1996: 3 men
2000: 3 men
2004: 8 men, 1 woman (Carol Moseley Braun)
2008: 1 man, 1 woman (Hillary Clinton)
2012: 1 man
2016: 2 men, 1 woman (Hillary Clinton)
2020: 8 men, 3 women (Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Tulsi Gabbard)
Of the 57 men who have competed for the Democratic nomination, 46 have ended up in that most forlorn of places—before a microphone to acknowledge the end of the road to distraught supporters. It shouldn’t be forgotten, then, that the five losing women candidates (Clinton in 2016 being the sole winner) have plenty of male company in the harsh experience of defeat. The women, moreover, have lost at a rate (83%) almost the same as that of the men (81%).
What is different, of course, is the tiny sample size for the women. That is an appalling blot on our history as a democracy. It is also changing, and changing swiftly. Half of the six women who have run for the presidency since 1980 (and to all intents and purposes since the founding of the Republic) did so in the 2020 election cycle. Two other women, Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillebrand, mounted major campaign efforts in the early going of the 2020 cycle but withdrew before the primaries; and a third, Marianne Williamson, took part in the early debates. No such phenomenon was seen in previous election years.
Warren’s unsuccessful run comes as a blow, yes, like those of Klobuchar, Harris, and the others. It was a blow to the tree. The tree will fall.