Brace Yourself for Second Place

Photo: Getty Images, Shutterstock

It’s easy to understand how we got here, but difficult to accept that we are here. Earlier today, Senator Elizabeth Warren, who once led in the democratic primary polls, officially ended her presidential campaign. What was once a diverse field has now been narrowed to only two real contenders, Senator Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden. The candidates offer different political ideologies, but they have some key traits in common. Mainly, they’re both nearing 80, they’re both white, they’re both men — and they’ll both likely need a female vice-president to join their ticket if they want to win.

Women have never had more political capital than they do right now. Democrats especially know this. In 2018, 59 percent of female voters cast their ballots for a democrat, compared with 47 percent of men; women have voted at higher rates than men for decades; and women of color, the party’s most reliable voting bloc, were largely responsible for the unprecedented turnout in the last midterm elections — a surge at the polls that not only elected a record number of women to office, but flipped the U.S. House from red to blue.

The male candidates in the race have known this all along. During a trip to Iowa in November, Biden floated four potential VP picks — all of them women. Last month, Sanders said his campaign would likely look at a VP who is younger and “maybe not of the same gender that I am.” Choosing a woman to join their tickets isn’t a nice thing to do, it’s the smart, strategic move. It may also be a tough pill for Warren supporters to swallow. Instead of voting for a female president, they will be forced to watch a woman — whoever she may be — prop up a male candidate.

It would be historic to have a female vice-president. Only two women have ever been a VP candidate on a major party ticket in this country — Democrat Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, and Republican Sarah Palin in 2008. But in this moment, it feels like a consolation prize; women being asked to smile while holding a second-place trophy, knowing that the game was never quite fair and the hurdles were higher and any other metaphor for the sexism women face when running for office — especially executive office. Female voters will no doubt be repeatedly reminded between now and November just how historical a woman in the White House would be. We’ll be told that by voting for a man who put a woman in the No. 2 spot, we can crack the glass ceiling just beneath the other (higher, harder) glass ceiling. The ask to women is a familiar one: Don’t look away, just shift your gaze down.

It is a hard fall from September, when Warren was rising to the top of the polls. At her rally in Manhattan’s Washington Square Park that month, she gave an impassioned speech in front of a crowd of 20,000 people, laying out her anti-corruption plan and linking feminist activism with structural change. Standing at a 46-inch podium built to represent the 46th U.S. president (which at the time seemed like it very well could be her), she told her supporters, “There’s a lot at stake in this election, and I know people are scared. But we can’t choose a candidate we don’t believe in just because we’re too scared to do anything else.” It felt like a battle cry. When she gave a similar message to supporters in Michigan earlier this week, her tone was more despondent. “Cast the vote that will make you proud,” Warren said. “Cast the vote from your heart. And vote for the person you think would be the best president of the United States.” She knew by then. We all knew by then. But it still stings to watch the last chance for a female president for another four or more years slip away.

With Warren out of the race, the media is already buzzing about which women would make the best VP choice. There are exciting candidates to consider. For progressives, there’s Warren, yes, but also former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who Biden has said is a possibility. Further to the center, Senators Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris have been mentioned. And, in addition to Abrams, Biden has also name dropped New Hampshire Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan (who represent a state where he bombed in the primary), as well as former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates. There are numerous other names swirling around, as should be expected. There are so many good women to choose from. That’s precisely why this hurts.

Brace Yourself for Second Place