Hillary Clinton lost because of sexism
Timing is everything.
According to Hillary Clinton, “If the election had been on October 27, I would be your president.” She made the remarks Tuesday to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour at a Women for Women event in New York.
As Clinton explained it, she was “on the way to winning until a combination of (FBI Director) Jim Comey’s letter on October 28 and Russian WikiLeaks raised doubts in the minds of people who were inclined to vote for me and got scared off.”
She talked about the role of sexism: “It is real. It is very much a part of the landscape politically, socially and economically.”
Some are dismissing her remarks as sour grapes.
I don’t agree. I believe she’s offering an explanation; not an excuse.
But it’s an incomplete explanation -- Clinton could have gone much further. Yes, Comey and Russian Wikileaks tipped the scales -- Clinton believes they were decisive in the vote. But there’s good reason to believe that Clinton’s flawed strategy exacerbated the effects of those two factors.
And while Clinton may believe sexism “played a role,” as she told Amanpour, I believe it was overt sexism (and often misogyny) that in the end kept the presidency from the first female major-party presidential candidate.
First, strategy: To back up her claims Tuesday, Clinton cited data analytics guru, Nate Silver.
In a series of post-election tweets last December, Silver did indeed look at the data. His blunt assessment?:
“I’ll put it like this: Clinton would almost certainly be President-elect if the election had been held on Oct. 27 (day before Comey letter),” Silver tweeted.
But in another tweet, Silver pointed to data showing “voters broke strongly against Clinton...in MI/WI/PA” after the Comey letter.
Clinton missed the mood of the country and that means her strategy was flawed. She lost the famed “blue wall” of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania because she and her advisers thought they could ignore it.
You can call that arrogant or ignorant, but one thing’s for sure: When you have the head of the FBI reviving an inquiry on you days before the election, you better have the blue wall standing with you if you still hope to win.
Which brings us to sexism. More than Russia spreading fake news, Comey’s letter, controversy over her email servers, paid speeches and even failed strategy -- this is what kept Clinton from winning.
It was easy to see. Never in my lifetime has there been more misogyny on display than during the 2016 election. It was disgusting. The biggest offender: Donald Trump. The flat-out derisive language and more subtle “messaging” were so prevalent that we began to accept it.
From attacking Carly Fiorina’s appearance (“Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that?”) to questioning the integrity of Fox host Megyn Kelly when she asked him in a debate about his long list of sexist comments (“She had blood coming out of her wherever,” he later said), it was an endless barrage against women.
At the Republican National Convention it was even more baldly crude and crass. Writing for the Atlantic, one reporter observed the following merchandise for sale outside the convention hall.
“Black pin reading DON’T BE A PUSSY. VOTE FOR TRUMP IN 2016. Black-and-red pin reading TRUMP 2016: FINALLY SOMEONE WITH BALLS. White T-shirt reading TRUMP THAT BITCH. White T shirt reading HILLARY SUCKS BUT NOT LIKE MONICA. Red pin reading LIFE’S A BITCH: DON’T VOTE FOR ONE. White pin depicting a boy urinating on the word Hillary. Black T-shirt depicting Trump as a biker and Clinton falling off the motorcycle’s back alongside the words IF YOU CAN READ THIS, THE BITCH FELL OFF. Black T-shirt depicting Trump as a boxer having just knocked Clinton to the floor of the ring, where she lies face-up in a clingy tank top. White pin advertising KFC HILLARY SPECIAL. 2 FAT THIGHS. 2 SMALL BREASTS ... LEFT WING.
Many experts argue that sexism is more acceptable than racism -- we accept i t; are not as outraged by it or ashamed of it. I believe it.
Michelle Cottle, also writing in the Atlantic, cited this thought-provoking example of “two hecklers at a New Hampshire rally who waved signs and chanted, ‘Iron my shirt!’ Clinton laughed it off, and the incident was reported mostly as dumbass 20-something guys acting like dumbass 20-something guys. But if someone had yelled an equivalently demeaning remark at Obama -- like, say, ‘Shine my shoes!’ -- the public response likely would have been very different.”
Of course, using sexism is also the laziest way to demean a woman. If you can’t debate her ideas, just slam her appearance, her personality, her relationships and her likeability. Trump crossed the line all the time. Flustered during the debate because he couldn’t out debate Clinton on policy, he just leaned into the mic and dismissed her entirely: “nasty woman.”
He knew, perhaps instinctively, that this would not hurt him with a significant slice of the electorate, men and women. In fact, it likely helped. Consider, for example, that a 2016 PRRI/Atlantic poll found that 40% of respondents believe that America would be better off if women would “stick to the jobs and tasks they are naturally suited for” and that number is even higher among Trump supporters. This poll is not an outlier.
Trump seems to agree. Perhaps that’s why he walks 10 paces ahead of his wife, jokes in front of a room full of men that Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, can be “replaced” (like a girlfriend?) and snubs a handshake from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
It takes a real man to act like one. The nation now has Donald Trump instead. And it’ll take clear-eyed, adult voters to look hard and honestly and admit that we’ve got a problem on our hands here, one that affects women everywhere -- Republican, Democratic and independent. A Hillary Clinton presidency would have represented an important step away from the country’s lagging acceptance of women as powerful, full participants in our democracy.
Why should you care? It’s simple: the fact is, our world has changed. There are about as many women in the workforce as men, and 40% of working women are the breadwinners of their households, and that number isn’t going to go down.
Plenty of research shows that women are naturally suited for leadership and bring many innate and valuable qualities to the table (like empathy and strategy) that make them more effective and more profitable leaders.
And beyond this, what kind of world do you want your daughter, your sister, your wife and your mother to live in?
Yes, timing is everything. And this time, you are right about sexism, Hillary, but wrong about how decisive it was. It cost you the election. Let’s hope it doesn’t cost us all a whole lot more over the next four years.