Joe Biden tried to make the case to voters in Iowa on Thursday that he will be able to defeat Donald Trump in 2020, even though Hillary Clinton failed to do so in the last presidential election. Part of his pitch? He’s a man.
On Thursday, a voter at a town hall in the eastern Iowa city of Anamosa asked Biden whether he was running a stronger campaign than Clinton had.
The former vice president went through a list of reasons why he believed Clinton lost, including that people underestimated Trump; Clinton mishandled the response to the infamous Access Hollywood tape; and Trump effectively inflamed the controversy around her emails.
He also said Clinton was the victim of “unfair” sexist attacks.
But, he added, “That’s not going to happen with me.”
Yes, Clinton faced extra hurdles and scrutiny as the first female presidential nominee of a major political party. And yes, Biden would not face them because he is not a woman.
But Biden’s decision to remind voters that he is a stronger candidate because he won’t face those attacks ― i.e. he’s a man ― could unintentionally play into a dangerous narrative that women aren’t as electable.
“I hope Vice President Biden clarifies what he means here and pushes back on any hint of this false narrative. After watching women win in 2018 and 2019 in red, blue and purple states, it’s clear that women can face sexism AND get elected,” said Christina Reynolds, who served on Clinton’s presidential campaign and is now vice president of communications at EMILY’s List, which works to elect women who support abortion rights.
A Biden official said the former vice president was “absolutely not” making the case that women were less electable.
“He was responding to a direct, specific question about the last election and emphasizing that Sec. Clinton faced egregiously unfair attacks and media coverage that in many ways resulted from gender bias,” the official said. “Reputable studies have confirmed this. Joe Biden has proudly campaigned for Hillary Clinton and for countless women candidates across the country. He was pointing out the urgent need to change the culture in this country — which has only been worsened by Donald Trump’s poisonous sexism.”
While people had plenty of legitimate criticisms of Clinton, she also faced questions that were rooted more in gender stereotypes than problems with her qualifications: whether she was likable enough, whether she should smile more, whether her voice was annoying, whether she looked presidential, whether she was warm enough.
Polls show that female candidates ― and minorities ― are still perceived to be less electable than male candidates.
A HuffPost/YouGov poll conducted in March found that 3 in 10 Democratic voters think that most of the electorate would be less likely to vote for a female candidate because of her gender, compared to just 4% who think a male candidate would face a similar disadvantage. Similarly, 28% think a nonwhite candidate would face more difficulty with voters.
Of the four frontrunners in the Democratic presidential field right now, only one ― Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) ― is a woman.