The debacle of 2016, the Hillary Clinton campaign that ran like a dry creek, was considered a big blow to women in politics. How could anyone lose to Donald Trump?
"The defeat has the potential to set back female candidates’ emergence,” analyzed Jennifer Lawless, director of American University’s Women and Politics Institute. Women, she said at the time, wouldn’t think their skin was thick enough for the fight. The battering Ms. Clinton took would turn them away.
That there would be a surge of woman power among Democrats, that women would proceed to capture the soul of the Democratic Party, was hardly in the cards.
But consider what has happened.
In the new Congress, elected in November and sworn in last week, there are a record 102 women. Almost 90 per cent of them are Democrats.
The most powerful person on Capitol Hill is Democrat Nancy Pelosi, who is 78 and who has just been voted Speaker of the House. Not a male member in the party approaches her in authority and stature. Demonized in a Republican ad campaign during the midterms, it was thought she was finished. Instead she has emerged more respected than ever.
A half-century younger than the party’s old luminary is Washington’s new one. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 29-year-old former Ted Kennedy intern, is a media sensation, a social democrat whose star power is unique in several ways, not the least of which is that she’s had an asteroid named after her. The International Astronomical Union did that after her stellar work as a student on a microbiology research project.
The Bronx-born Hispanic is already a leader in the resistance and is driving Republicans mad. To try and knock her down a peg, the uptight Philistines ran an old video of her dancing on a rooftop as if it were some sort of sin. “I hear the GOP thinks women dancing are scandalous,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez responded mockingly. She then posted a video of her dancing outside her new Hill office. It lit up the social-media world.
In the middle age group, the party has the moral power of former first lady Michelle Obama. Her runaway best-selling memoir, Becoming, with that luminous jacket photo, has seen her popularity soar. She would be a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination if she were interested.
She isn’t. But those who feared there might be a lack of female Democrats to vie for that prize following the Hillary follies need fear no longer. There are four projected strong woman contenders. One, senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, had people waiting in line for two hours to see her speak on the weekend in the first primary state of Iowa.
There’s also Senators Kamala Harris of California, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. They swing left and they have intellectual heft, a phrase that is alien to Republican vocabulary.
Ms. Gillibrand is in the forefront of the #MeToo movement which took shape after Ms. Clinton’s defeat. It is another new and intimidating source of woman power for the Democrats.
The women are of the sort who can face U.S. President Donald Trump head on. New Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, a Muslim, caused a ruckus when she was recorded at an event vowing to impeach him, using coarse language.
The way women are taking over the Democratic Party, it’s becoming the women’s party. Its strength lies with female voters, and to maintain the gender gap the party must offer woman-friendly policies. Ms. Clinton took the women’s vote to the tune of 54 per cent. Polls show the number could go much higher in the next election.
But while the zeitgeist is with the women now, there is no guarantee it will remain so. In the wake of the Clinton experience, many doubt the wisdom of running another woman against Mr. Trump.
There’s also the question of whether the tilt in the party generated from all the women who poured into grassroots groups in the midterm campaigns is too far to the left.
Old-time Democrats like Joe Biden, who appears set to enter the race, are not fans of radical progressivism. But that’s the old guard. He and his ilk don’t have asteroids named after them.