Warren exits, and our hopes for a woman president once again are dashed

By Cynthia Richie Terrell on March 08, 2020

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Greg Nash, The Hill

By Cynthia Richie Terrell

Sen. Elizabeth Warren has exited the Democratic presidential primary and with her go our hopes for a woman president during the 2020 suffrage centennial. The primary season and subsequent general election now will take on the familiar contours of two white men. After our first African American president and first woman presidential nominee of a major party, many had hoped this scenario would be a ghost of elections past. 

 

Some might say, “Well, your turn will come.” But when a flip of the coin comes up heads 25 straight times, something needs to change. In spite of record gender and racial diversity at the beginning of the 2020 Democratic primary — including six women — a man again will again win the White House this year. In 2018 a record number of women entered the midterm elections. Not only did their successes win House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) her gavel back, their victories showed the importance of women voters who helped to elect them. 

As the last viable woman candidate leaves the field, we can expect the focus to shift quickly to the question of whether the remaining candidates will choose a woman — or even better, a woman of color — as a running mate. A woman vice president, regardless of race, would be a milestone for the U.S. and is a minimum requirement. If women are never at the top of the ticket, vice presidential running mates risk being seen as tokens, but we call on the major parties to always have a woman on their ticket to reflect a commitment to parity. 

Let’s not stop there. We need a broader realization that we must be intentional to address equality in women’s representation. I recently had the pleasure of attending the Women’s Congressional Policy Institute’s 2020 Gala, celebrating the Bipartisan Congressional Women’s Caucus. At the event, Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.) shared a wonderful anecdote about the caucus’s bipartisan strength: While their male counterparts in Congress play baseball against each other, always split along party lines, the Women’s Caucus has formed a single softball team, playing together against staff and media. 

While the media narrative is one of political gridlock, the same cannot be said about the truly bipartisan Women’s Caucus. In a time when little legislation seems to be making it through Congress, several bills have passed the House with the leadership of congresswomen working together, across the aisle, to address important issues facing our nation. 

In the spirit of the Women’s Caucus and its softball team, it’s time for more than a “women’s lane” in politics; it’s time for a women’s team. It is clear that our democracy deserves better than narrow political lanes hellbent on excluding those who fail to pass stringent ideological purity tests. We need a women’s team on which all voices are heard, respected, uplifted and debated on merits, not gender. 

After seeing a number of qualified women enter and exit the Democratic presidential primary, and many Republican women struggle in recent congressional primaries, it is clear that the problem is not our lack of qualified women candidates but our political culture and electoral systems built over 200 years ago. If we hope to see a woman president, and to give women equal representation at all levels of government, we need both a broad commitment and specific changes in the political process and electoral system that encourage coalition building, civil campaigning and a consensus winner. 

Let’s adopt ranked choice voting, modernize legislative workplace norms, and challenge presidential candidates to appoint women as running mates, and as cabinet secretaries, to ensure that women have equal opportunities to run, win, serve and lead.

We will not inaugurate a woman president in 2021. Let’s intensify our commitment to change that reality in the coming decade.

Cynthia Richie Terrell is the founder and director of RepresentWomen that researches and advances systems strategies to elect more women to office.