Opinion

An excerpt from Electable: Why America Hasn’t Put a Woman in the White House has been used here. However, Ali Vitali, an NBC News Capitol Hill correspondent, has written a book. The book, which was released on Tuesday by Dey Street/HarperCollins, explores the gendered discrimination experienced by the female contenders for the 2020 presidential election and provides an explanation for why and when women will finally succeed in breaking the glass ceiling.

What if you don’t succeed at this?
Sen. Elizabeth Warren was not pleased with my inquiry, I could tell right away.

In her home state of Massachusetts, new polling placed Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders neck and neck, and the Sanders team had recently made a great show of campaigning there with a large audience days before the biggest delegate grab of the 2020 Democratic primary: Super Tuesday.

Why would you ask me a question like this in the early morning while you were heading down to cast your ballot? Warren stated in a tight, high voice that revealed an out-of-character tone of annoyance. I had a child-like sense of being in jeopardy. This campaign had seen a number of stressful news cycles, but this was the first time Hillary had openly shown dissatisfaction at one of my inquiries.

Warren just had one choice: She had to triumph here or lose elsewhere! She hadn’t done it yet, and everyone knew her campaign was in peril, so she did it on Super Tuesday. There it was. The final opportunity for a candidate looking to bridge the gap between leftist Bernie Sanders and centrist Joe Biden.

Being a candidate’s cover is similar to being in a very controlling, one-sided relationship.

She finally said, “This is the finest part.” With each syllable, the sternness left her voice, giving way to the typical brightness that complemented her tone as she made her way to the polling place. The best aspect of democracy is this.

I said, “Thank you, senator,” scurrying off the crooked brick walkway while attempting to keep no one else or myself in the cord that connected my microphone to my camera team.

Super Tuesday was no different from the almost daily huddles with the senator to which I’d grown used. Additionally, I had grown accustomed to her habit of turning to me first when we took our customary positions within the group. It was also a simple method for her to let me know that she anticipated to hear from me. After all, I was never without a question to pose, but it was also a strategy for reversing a stereotypically masculine procedure in favor of the female members of her press corps.

The loudest and most aggressive reporters were preferred in swarms and gaggles. The ones who could physically force their way to the front of the group (which, at five two feet tall, I was fantastic at) and the ones who could hold the candidates’ attention when they yelled for it. Governor, Senator! President, please! It was a chaotic process that frequently encouraged stereotypically male qualities and rewarded them.

Warren was very aware of these dynamics, and I was frequently impressed by how she used her position as a candidate to help the women who covered her get the information they needed. She made sure the field was level but did not favor us. She repeatedly intervened when louder, deeper-voiced male reporters tried to talk over me.

A male reporter from a local station once physically placed his microphone (and arm) over me and began speaking when I was halfway through asking my question and shed had already called on me. She told him, “I’m talking to Ali now,” keeping her gaze on me despite his startled silence. I had never seen a candidate act in that way before.

However, Biden’s dominance of the electoral map on Super Tuesday night was astonishing. In the 72 hours following Biden’s victory in South Carolina, Democratic supporters who had resisted any kind of cohesive grouping for a year firmly lined up behind him. As did every other candidate, including Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, and Beto ORourke, who queued up to support him, adding to his aura of inevitability. After suffering defeats in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada, it appears that one victory was all that was required to confirm Biden’s long-discussed electability.

In the end, Warren won a mere handful—not hundreds—of delegates on Super Tuesday. Not Bernie Sanders, but Biden, who had no local campaign infrastructure and hadn’t even traveled there to campaign, defeated her in her home state, winning 33.6% of the vote to Warren’s 21.4%. It was over on CNN and MSNBC. The winning Biden news cycle that had been building up in the television narrative for months had now taken center stage.

I viewed the news that former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was withdrawing from office as they came in from the corner opposite Warren’s home. His “spend everything but campaign little” strategy had been ineffective. Given the depressing state of Warren World, several strategists emailed to note (and gloat over) the fact that Warren had outlasted him.

That evening, I eventually returned to the motel, showered, and promptly fell asleep. However, my worry about the upcoming news kept me up all night. It was all going to end tomorrow. It had to. Despite not knowing it yet, I was aware of it. Furthermore, it didn’t get any easier knowing the end was near.

I was frequently impressed by the way she used her influence as a candidate to help the ladies who covered her acquire the information they needed.

Because here is the reality of my position: Providing coverage for a candidate is very much like being in a controlling, one-sided relationship. You frequently talk about them, wonder what they’re up to when you’re not around, and think about them constantly. You constantly wonder when you’ll see them again when you’re apart from them. It’s strange. I’m compensated to become acquainted with them. Certainly, according to their attitudes, policies, and pronouncements. Additionally, consider their personality type. What the hell do they think they’re doing running for president of the United States? Who exactly are they?

Even more truthfully, there are occasions when you’re tasked with defending a candidate who, after getting to know them, you discover you can’t respect. These candidates are ones I’ve covered. However, you may also be tasked with interviewing individuals that you come to know and discover are generally decent people. They’re here for the right reasons, according to my fellow Bachelor Nation members.

They’re still politicians, and your job is still to vet them, but for the most part, you like writing about them because the person you’re following is interesting, clever, and dedicated to improving the nation that you two both call home. This isn’t about being mean or polite, therefore that doesn’t imply they’re always pleasant. These politicians are still interested in gaining power, and you are still there to keep them accountable. You can respect the excellent people for what they contribute to the table while you’re doing that, though.

On a teleconference that Thursday, Warren addressed a large group of staff members, “I want you all to hear it first, and I want you to hear it directly from me: Today, I’m suspending our campaign for president.”

I can’t recall ever feeling so stressed. Certainly not tension. It was a strain. I have never felt the gravity of a moment more. It was my responsibility to give the 2020 presidential candidates who are women their due. Not to be too kind or flattering, just to present them as the capable and qualified candidates that they were.

I had seen the overt and covert sexism dynamics in action as a reporter, and I was determined not to fall into those traps. I was devoted to placing this historical female moment in its feminist context as a feminist. I simply didn’t want to mess up this opportunity because I was a woman.

Warren addressed the press gathered in her driveway after the all-staff call.

Warren expressed her sincere gratitude to each and every person who participated in the debate, tried out a novel thought, or even slightly altered their perception of what a president of the United States ought to look like.

Even today, that last thank-you stands out in my mind: to anyone who even slightly altered their perception of what a president ought to look like.

It was the ultimate solution to electability, but Warren and her campaign were unable to find it in quantities significant enough to matter while she was running. They, along with Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Tulsi Gabbard, and Marianne Williamson, failed to convince Democratic primary voters to see something they had never seen before in order to support it.

Democratic voters were drawn to a candidate they had already seen 44 times: a white male politician who Everyone-That-Knew-Anything predicted could win because they were cautious, risk-averse, and—perhaps most importantly—fearful of four more years of Donald Trump. A guy who unsuccessfully ran for president twice before, in 1988 and 2008, had three painful losses in the Democratic primary this time, but triumphed once, when it mattered, and never looked back.

Later, Annie Linskey of The Washington Post questioned Warren on gender and its significance in this campaign. A question that they were all given to consider in real time was now responded to with new freedom.

Warren retorted, “That is the trick question for every lady. Everyone calls you a whiner if you admit that there was sexism in this race. And if you respond, “No, there was no sexism,” a ton of women will question your place of residence.

The women in my vicinity were softly nodding. We all understood what she was getting at. Only female reporters would prioritize asking these questions, and only female reporters could frame the responses appropriately. It was both welcome and significant. a manifestation of the kind of depth of reporting that newsrooms and press corps that are more diverse may bring to traditionally male- and white-dominated environments.

But afterwards, I began to wonder whether perhaps we were contributing to the problem. How our country and the media constantly require women to overcome obstacles and sexist barriers that are part of the presidential election process before asking them how they did it. Alternately, when we ask them why they lost, we minimize the invisible impact of gender bias as a factor—not the only factor, but a factor nonetheless. It almost seems like we avoid discussing gender in a meaningful way when analyzing what went wrong because its impact is frequently difficult to quantify. We had to talk about sexism as we considered Warren’s withdrawal from the race since she had engaged with it here.

None of the 2020 female candidates that ran were defeated simply due of sexism. Additionally, none of them directly criticized sexism. That would not have been a valid reason. But they all concur that it had a role in the failure of their campaigns in the end. And without that, any justification would be woefully deficient.

In a November 2020 conversation with me, Warren and I discussed the conclusion of her campaign, but she made no mention of her problems, her team, or the manner she campaigned. She appeared to place the majority of the burden on herself, however.

It almost seems like we avoid discussing gender in a meaningful way when analyzing what went wrong because its impact is frequently difficult to quantify.

Warren told me about her workers, pausing between each sentence as she spoke. I thought I had failed. So how can I tell everyone on a staff call that this is not our time and, at the very least, is not what America wants?

I was overweight and pregnant. Speaking with her at the time, it occurred to me that Warren seemed to derive little solace from her accomplishments as she laid the blame squarely at her own door.

Did it raise any doubts in your mind, such as the possibility that I may have believed the nation was prepared for a policy or a personality when it wasn’t?

On policy, she replied with a firm “no.” I really believe in what has to be fixed and what is broken. I was the messenger with flaws. I was unable to bring it there.

Systemic inequality, climatic change, and uneven access to opportunities These were the problems that required immediate attention, she told me in a greatly condensed version of the speech I had heard her deliver many times. It seemed to be urgent to me. These are the actions that must be taken. I’m responsible if I failed to engage individuals or adequately explain the subject.

It wasn’t only the candidate or her team who looked for a silver lining after Warren’s resignation. Many people, particularly women, were struggling with the crushing disappointment they had grown accustomed to all too well.

The Thursday afternoon Elizabeth Warren withdrew felt like November 2016 all over again for many of those who backed her and those who didn’t: a gut-punching reminder that it would be at least another four years before another woman could run for president. In some cases, the heartache was directly related to Warren, who was mourned as an outspoken progressive with a pragmatic streak who truly believed she could succeed. In other cases, it appeared as though people had come to the realization that they were, in fact, hungry for female leadership—if only after they had missed the opportunity.

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