Should “Likability” Be A 2020 Campaign Issue?

IMG_1893Almost immediately after Elizabeth Warren announced she was taking an official step towards running for president in 2020, there were “haters” who starting launching attacks and claiming she’d never be able to win. Whether it’s mainstream media outlets like Politico claiming she’s already been “written off as too unlikable” and comparing her campaign to Hillary’s failed 2016 effort, Republicans calling her “cold” instead of addressing her policy ideas, or political consultants saying their family would consider a male candidate like Joe Biden but not Elizabeth Warren, it seems like the main argument people have against her is — wait for it — she’s a female and just too darn unlikable.

This isn’t something new. While a large number of progressive activists were hoping she’d enter the 2016 race for president, there’s been a lot of other folks who’ve been attacking her personality or other superficial aspects of her record ever since she started receiving national attention. A prime example of this is how Donald Trump has taken to calling her “Pocahantas” instead of actually listening to the policy proposals she’s developed after spending her whole career studying the legal aspects of economics.

Unfortunately, Sen. Warren is just the latest example of women being criticized for extremely frivolous reasons. Women who’ve sought powerful positions in the past have always faced extra scrutiny about things like their clothing style or personality — even when they’re the frontrunner for president. There were multiple stories over the years that called Hillary Clinton’s laugh “shrill,” for example, and reporters like Bob Woodward actually claimed she “shouts” too much.

Now there are some people who almost base their criticism of Warren on policy related issues, but their arguments really come down to disliking her attempts to take on the establishment. Whether it’s going after the big banks, trying to limit the impact big pharma has on the costs of healthcare, or challenging the political elite on both sides of the aisle, there are simply people out there who don’t like how she represents major change.

Of course, when Obama ran on a message of change back in 2008, folks declared it inspiring even if they didn’t agree with all his policy proposals. But these are many of the same people who seem to feel threatened by Sen. Warren. What’s different? Well, perhaps the most obvious thing is she’s a female who isn’t deemed to be “likable enough” (channeling the quote Obama made about Hillary Clinton during a debate back in 2008).

This can’t just be attributed to Republicans or the media either. There are a fair number of Democrats who were quick to bash Sen. Warren. One rather vocal Democrat from Northern Virginia, for instance, took to Facebook shortly after her announcement and declared “Elizabeth Warren is forming an exploratory committee. (Yawn). I’ll vote for just about anyone (except Bernie) before her.” The comment was “liked” by several other prominent Democrats from the area who have a history of speaking out against Sen. Bernie Sanders and other politicians who threaten the political establishment.

The good news is that there’s a lot of push back against the negative way folks are reacting. Several media outlets and folks who are leaning towards supporting other candidates have expressed outrage over Politico’s story and there’s been a lot of online chatter about how we never hear stories about whether or not male politicians are “likable.” Plus, Sen. Warren has already started fundraising off the issue.

The real story will be whether or not she’s able to grow her base of support. An early test of this will be in Iowa as she’s already hired some key staff members in the state and will be making a trip there this weekend. It might be a year before any voting actually takes place, but these moves could prove beneficial in the long run.

Combine these moves with what the data and buzz among grassroots activists are showing and there are some positive things happening for her campaign. Even people who are supporting other candidates have admitted she’s among the top candidates in early polling — something that matches what folks on the ground are saying. A co-worker of mine who’s based in Iowa told me “there’s a lot of excitement” about her campaign there and “even people who aren’t sure about her are gonna go to her events to see what’s up.”

If she wants to win the Democratic nomination and then the White House, she’ll need to use early trips like this to convince folks “who aren’t sure about her” and gain some momentum in the media. While she has time to overcome the negative narrative some people are trying to promote, the earlier she does this the better.

No matter what happens in the presidential campaign, one thing’s clear. The discussion over who holds the most powerful office in the world should include female candidates and shouldn’t focus on if they’re “likable enough.”

About Bryan J. Scrafford

Bryan Scrafford is a community organizer based in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC. Since first becoming involved in Virginia politics during his college days at George Mason University, Scrafford has been a fierce advocate for LGBT equality, economic justice, and other progressive causes. He's involved in several community organizations, including being the state director for Americans for Democratic Action.
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