It seems a perfect storm is brewing in American politics. Disparate, sometimes unrelated events are coming together in the 100th year of American women being allowed to vote. Many are speculating - as they did when Hillary Clinton challenged Donald Trump - that in 2020, exactly one century after the US constitution was amended to permit female franchise, for the first time a woman will be elected president of the United States.
Last week, by far the most powerful woman in American politics resumed her position as Speaker of the House of Representatives after a hiatus of eight years of frustration as minority leader. During that period, Nancy Pelosi watched as the early promise of Barack Obama was picked at and diminished by spiteful Republicans and their shameful base of ignorant bigots, misguided religious zealots and other gullible, impressionable voters. Then, shockingly, she witnessed the election in 2016 of Donald Trump, blighting any hopes voters may have had for a reversal of the dumbing down and cynical manipulation of American politics.
Thanks to a lot of hard work and successful strategising by Pelosi and the Democratic party, the November mid-term American elections became a stinging repudiation of greedy and disrespectful Republican behaviour. A sizeable GOP majority in the House was reversed and a new, younger wave of congressmen and women was sworn in last week. Of the 435 members of the House, an unprecedented 23 percent were women. Fresh, different faces among the new legislators have already spoken against Trump’s reprehensible misogyny and unforgivable mendacity. For now, they are political rock stars.
Charismatic congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, from New York City, and Haley Stevens, from Detroit, have garnered national headlines. But today’s euphoria will subside. They and their new colleagues have so much more work to do.
The Republicans still control the Senate, 53-47. A peek at the 2020 political landscape reveals that as things now appear, the Democrats have a decent prospect of defeating fewer than a half dozen GOP incumbent Senators, and will be hard pressed to defend a couple of their own seats, most notably in Alabama. The most pragmatically optimistic projection which is not too fanciful projects a 50-50 split in the Senate, with a potential Democratic vice president presiding and breaking ties.
Furthermore, Trump’s slavish devotion to his campaign promises to his loyal “base” has appeared to solidify their support; his approval ratings, while not gaudy, nonetheless hover around 40 percent, which is not hopeless with the general election still 22 months from now.
The question of whom the Democrats will select to oppose Trump is unclear. Many have expressed the concern that if a woman is nominated, she will face the same gusty headwinds that capsized Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Pundits are already bemoaning tests of likeability which are applied to women candidates for executive office, but not to men.
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has clearly signalled her intention to run. At least three other female senators are expected to jump into the race in the coming months. But it may be significant that the leading choice in early polling of Democratic voters is former Senator and Vice President Joe Biden. Running in second place is former El Paso congressman Beto O’Rourke, a charismatic Latino who ran an unexpectedly strong race against Ted Cruz in the November Texas Senate race and demonstrated prodigious fundraising strength.
Warren will run for the nomination on a promise to detangle the present American economic system, which she describes as rigged against the working middle class and poor. Senator Bernie Sanders will probably compete on the same platform. Biden, very likely to present himself as a presidential candidate for the third time, will offer experience and the prospect of standing up to Trump on the debate stage. There is speculation that more than a dozen Democrats will enter the party’s primary races. There will be multiple African Americans and women. Foremost on the minds of primary voters will be the matter of which candidate can unhorse Trump in the jousts to come.
Of course, all the careful calculations in the world can come undone in the blink of Robert Mueller’s eye. When the special counsel’s report finally emerges, we may see whether a sitting president can be indicted. That might change everything.