Can Clinton change American history? We asked Nancy L. Cohen for her thoughts on the election – and whether sexism will play a pivotal role. — the Guardian
Howard Cole: Should it be considered a surprise that the first woman to have a real shot at the presidency is a Democrat?
Nancy L Cohen: There were Republican women over the last two decades who could have been viable presidential candidates. But it’s not surprising that today it is a Democrat. The Democratic party has been much more committed to gender equality, thanks to a lot of Democratic women who devoted energy and resources to elect women.
In Congress, Democratic women outnumber Republican women by almost three to one. Women make up 35% of the Democratic congressional caucus, and only 9% of the Republican caucus.
You wrote a couple of times that the double standard is dead. Are you really that convinced?
There are a lot of sexist attacks and gendered attacks on Hillary Clinton, so you would think that sexism might play a big role in this election. The good news and the surprising news is that sexism doesn’t really affect the outcome of elections. Women win at rates equal to men in similar situations – apple-to-apple situations.
Voters care much more about party and ideology and temperament and policy than they care about gender. So women don’t lose elections because of sexism. So in that way, when we come down to the ultimate decision, the double standard is not really a factor anymore. It doesn’t mean that women aren’t subject to sexism. It doesn’t mean that our political debate is not highly gendered. What it means is that’s not the prime influence on how people vote.
Obviously, when you were writing the book you couldn’t have expected that Donald Trump was going to be figuring so prominently. He’s completely changed the whole way women are treated.
Yeah, I mean, if we had ever had a woman president, do we think we’d be having a conversation about the size of Trump’s endowment? I mean, that’s ridiculous that – yeah, I’m going to stop there.
You write that “long before anyone imagined that Bernie Sanders might run for president as a Democrat, Clinton already intended to run as a progressive,” adding how much you felt it resonated with students at the time. And yet Sanders seems to have the edge with the college crowd. Why?
I’m convinced from my interviews and research that Hillary is a progressive and that there’s little difference between her and Sanders on their goals for domestic policy. But she’s a policy wonk who wants to get things done, even if that takes compromise. He’s a protest politician, who would rather stay true to his beliefs, even if that means preserving the status quo.
[College students are] a more progressive generation than older people, and his ideals appeal to them. He talks about their interests in a direct and simple way that makes sense. The Sanders campaign is brilliant at social media, and that’s creating a bandwagon effect. People want to be part of something that feels exciting.
Hillary is actually winning African American and Latino millennials. Sanders is cleaning her clock with white millennials, particularly white millennial men.
Thoughts on an all-female Democratic ticket in 2016?
The real problem the Democratic party has at this moment in fielding an all-woman ticket is that pretty much all the women qualified right now are white women, from the north-east, in a very narrow age band. They don’t get the geographical diversity, or the ethnic diversity, or even really the ideological diversity.
However, given the clear strength in numbers of the progressive wing of the Democratic party, I would not completely rule out a Clinton-Elizabeth Warren ticket.
But I really expect the Democrats to put a Latino in the vice-presidential spot. I think that’s the main issue right now, given how virulent the nativism and racism is on the Republican side, that the Democrats will want to have an ethnically diverse ticket.
If not Hillary this time then who, and when?
I think if she doesn’t win in 2016, then she’s not going to run in 2020. What I would expect to see in 2020 is a number of women running for what will be an open seat for the Democratic side. And I think we could see equal numbers of women and men running the next time we see a competitive Democratic primary.
Who could it be? There are people like Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand and [California attorney general and candidate for US Senate] Kamala Harris – women who are coming up, who are running for senator who would be kind of an Obama equivalent. You know, they can come out of nowhere and we don’t know who they might be in 2020 or 2024.
Based on everything we know about the state of the race right now, today, how do you think the Democratic race turns out? And the general?
Hillary Clinton will continue to win the most votes and the most pledged delegates, and she will be the Democratic nominee. And I feel confident making another prediction, especially after Trump’s recent comment that abortion should be illegal and that women who have abortions should be punished. Hillary will win in November and be our next president.
Remember, for so many years, the party establishments wouldn’t support women because they said women were unelectable. The irony now is that Hillary, the woman in the race, is not only the most qualified presidential candidate, but also the most electable candidate in either party.
This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity