Out of a large Democratic field, can a woman emerge?
The United States elected its first president in 1789.One hundred seventy-one years elapsed before the nation chose its first Catholic president, another 20 years before voters elected a divorced man, and 28 years passed until the election of the first African-American chief executive.
A scant eight years later, it was a universally accepted truth that the election of the first female president was a foregone conclusion.
Oops! In one of the most wretched presidential campaigns in American political history, Hillary Clinton - ex-First Lady, U. S. Senator, and Secretary of State - squandered her historic opportunity, losing to a thrice-married real estate developer and reality television host who had never held public office and who spent a third of her total on the campaign.
In less than two years, a woman may very well stand on the portico of the east front of the Capitol, hand on a Bible, and become the first female to take the oath of office of president.
Convinced that President Trump is seriously vulnerable, upwards of two dozen current and former elected officials, ex-cabinet members, governors, ex-governors, and business executives have either announced candidacies or are seriously contemplating a run at the nomination.
Among that field, are five women - four sitting U.S. Senators and a member of the House.
Sens. Kamala Harris of California, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York are committed to running while Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is in the “I’m thinking about it” stage. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii is an announced candidate.
All at this point enjoy but single digit support, crowded out by the potential candidacies of former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, even though their leads are morereflective of name recognition than widespread support.
The large field will shrink over time as reality intrudes and a clear-eyed examination of their prospects reveals that tilting at windmills requires buying a horse and a suit of armor.
The challenge for the female Senators is to stand out from the crowd, draw attention and mount a credible campaign to convince the donor class to view them as a compelling candidate with a legitimate chance of winning.
Their success rests also on where the national party finally settles on the ideological spectrum.
It’s been driven further to the left by a vocal band of newcomers in the House who believe militant progressivism represents the path to victory - Medicare for all, free college education, government guaranteed employment, abolition of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, increased taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations, etc.
While such an agenda will most assuredly draw a sharp contrast with the Trump presidency, it is by no means certain it will capture the imagination of the nation.
The socialism upon which it rests has long been anathema to Americans, a rejection of the traditional values of individual freedom, personal responsibility and self-initiative.
The primary contests and candidates’ debates will reveal how far left the party will tilt and whether the American people can be persuadedsuch an ideological shift represents progress rather than a threat.
The unfavorable view of Trump held by a significant majority of the country may well assist Democrats in its message of change - even radical change.
The party will bank on discontent with an administration riven by chaos and headed by a president who often seems to have slipped his moorings to reality.Abrupt, contradictory shifts in policy combined with a temperamental chief executive waging running combat with the media in the midst of an ongoing investigation of his campaign all work to Democrats’ benefit in 2020 in the minds of party leaders.
It would, however, be a serious strategic error to rely heavily on antipathy toward Trump as the core of the campaign - a lesson learned the hard way by Clinton.Underestimating Trump, as the Clinton campaign discovered, is risky.
As the first female to secure a major party presidential nomination, Clinton opened the path for women to compete on an equal footing with their male counterparts.
It was no small achievement and will forever be viewed as a seminal moment in American politics, her subsequent badly flawed campaign and loss to Trump notwithstanding.
Any doubts about whether the country is prepared to accept a female as president have been put to rest.Clinton, after all, won the popular vote rather handily.
Intellect, insight, ability have replaced gender as the defining elements in choosing a president.
In 2020, two hundred thirty-one years may be put to rest as well.
Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University.