When only Hillary Clinton was running for president, men could say “I don’t have a problem with a female president. I just have a problem with this one.”
Now with four women in the top tier, what could the problem be? Is it her walk, her talk, the way she wears her hair, the way she sips her tea? Or is it something else—say, her gender?
Take Elizabeth Warren, who just leaped ahead to No. 3 in the latest survey of 17,000 likely voters by Politico’s Morning Consult Poll. She’s behind Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, but ahead of everyone else. A Quinnipiac poll from May 22 had her at 13 percent, only 3 percentage points behind Sanders, her competition to challenge Biden for the nomination.
But even as Warren’s broken into double-digits, she’s not impressing men. She has the largest gender gap of all the top-tier candidates—18 percentage points, according to Morning Consult Poll. That means she’s crushing it to make it to No. 3 in the rankings, saddled as she is with such a shortfall among men. It also means she will have to sweep every Pilates and women’s studies class in Iowa and New Hampshire to make up the deficit.
The only men willing to talk to me about their antipathy for Warren are wealthy fundraisers, mostly in New York, who wouldn’t give her their money even if she would take it. She believes they should pay more of their hard—or easily—earned money in taxes to help correct our massive income inequality, to put a check on capitalism that gives a hedge-fund manager the wherewithal to buy a $238 million penthouse when a full-time worker with a family lives in a trailer. Others whisper about how hard-nosed she is, not the type to get a beer with, given her no-nonsense schoolmarm demeanor or, actually, Harvard professor demeanor, if you want to play the elite card. Her program for every problem tests some voters’ attention span and she lacks the novelty of the new kid on the block who speaks Norwegian and talks Joyce or Beto O’Rourke, the Kennedyesque searcher for self and justice.
It isn’t only men who are wary that a woman can stand up to Trump. It’s unfair but when one woman loses—Hillary Clinton, for example—all women take the hit for it and some internalize the rejection. Adding to the concern is Warren’s handling of Trump branding her as “Pocahontas” for exaggerating her American Indian heritage and then playing into his hands by taking a DNA test that didn’t prove it. But a genetic test showing 100 percent Cherokee blood wouldn’t stop a president ready to insult anyone, anytime, including British notables Prime Minister Theresa May, the Duchess Meghan Markle, and that “stone, cold loser” London Mayor Sadiq Khan on the eve of his state visit. For sport, he found time to feed his Twitter habit by renewing his long war with Bette Midler, of all people.
The furor has died down. Where they know Pocahontas best (yes, Massachusetts is blue but it has a Republican governor), Warren won re-election by a landslide. Upon reflection, people recognized that many families overdo stories about who and where they come from. Mine gave St. Patrick’s Day as much attention as Christmas and forced me to learn the Irish jig, as if they’d just arrived from County Cork.
It didn’t seem like anyone remembered the Trump jibe at Warren’s event in Lansing, Michigan, on Tuesday night, as the first leg of a Midwestern swing was crowded with men standing for more than an hour and cheering for much of it. Warren has shot up from 2 and 3 percent showings because of town halls like this one—the kind Sen. John McCain perfected—with her earnest take on the issues and because she comes across as a lot like us, nailing that authenticity thing candidates pay political strategists millions to fake for them.
Where others say “we should have a conversation about that,” Warren’s had the conversation, analyzed the problem, and come up with a plan to fix it. She laughs when she says “I have a plan” because she has so many of them; but on income inequality, climate change, payday lenders, college debt, the environment, and consumer fraud (she started the Consumer Financial Protection Board), she has common-sense ways to improve the life of workers the deck is stacked against. She speaks in vivid and understandable paragraphs. She is binary when the issue calls for it: Fox News, no; impeachment, yes.
In Elkhart, Indiana, on Wednesday night, Warren simply said no to the Hyde Amendment, which deprives women of federal funds for abortion, hours after Biden’s campaign had confirmed that he supports it.
The more people hear her, the more they like her, even the Midwesterners from the factory floor. The Washington Post analyzed the impact of candidate town halls and found that Warren advanced from 6 to 9 percentage points after hers on CNN in April. In Iowa, according to a new survey from Change Research, Warren had the highest “very favorable” rating of any 2020 Democrat at 40 percent, edging out both Biden and Sanders.
One question from the audience came from a man who talked about a female friend who wouldn’t come with him because she believed the system was already too skewed toward an establishment man. Warren disagreed, building to to a crescendo. “The system is us. It’s the woman in the back up there, the mom over here with the child, it’s all of us.” She then became Mother Superior. “And you tell your friend, if she’s worried, put her worry to work and get up off her butt and volunteer.”
Some men don’t like that kind of talk coming from a woman. The ones in Lansing did. By the time she’s done, if she attracts and stirs the crowd the way she did Tuesday night, she could change a lot of minds. Men, go to the videotape. It might change yours.