WASHINGTON ― Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) announced Thursday that he’s not running for president. Who knows why he decided to bow out. He might have been worried about his plainly obvious likability problem.
Think about it. When Hillary Clinton ran for president in 2016, remember all the crap she took for her voice? It had that shrill tone. It was nagging. It was like her voice floated up into her cheek bones and through her nose, and was just very annoying. She was too loud. Or was she tender? Whatever. These were serious matters.
Clinton also didn’t smile enough. Obviously, if you want to be president, you have to modulate your voice and smile more. And P.S., you have to dress just right, too. Clinton has been criticized for dressing too unflatteringly, too polished and even too gender-confused. If you can’t wear the perfect outfit, you won’t connect with the average voter.
These are real challenges for 2020 presidential candidates like Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who are coming across as too warm and connecting too much with voters, or too cold, aloof and unlikable at this early stage.
This brings us to Brown. Forget the fact that literally everyone likes him and that he just easily won his third Senate term in a state President Donald Trump won by 8 points. Have you heard the guy’s voice? It’s gravelly. It’s garbled. His Senate floor speeches sound like someone just passed the mic to Oscar the Grouch. And then there’s his fashion sense. Brown wears rumpled suits, sometimes with a tie and sometimes without. What is that communicating to the average voter? I’m a working professional who deserves your respect, but then boom, no tie, I’m a regular schmoe just like you?
Notably, Brown didn’t smile once during a Thursday rant on the Senate floor about Republicans confirming piles of Trump’s young, right-wing, ideological judicial nominees. Lighten up man, these are just lifetime posts to federal courts!
HuffPost asked Brown’s colleagues if they privately worried he wasn’t likable enough and would face scrutiny over his voice and appearance as a presidential candidate, just as Clinton did. Shockingly, they did not.
“I don’t think he has a likability problem at all,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). Asked if he should probably smile more, she walked away in a huff. “Oh, please.”
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said of course Brown is likable enough to be president ― and then made fun of his clothes, a statement that could have done significant damage to Brown if he were running for president.
“I don’t think Sherrod has ever even seen a copy of GQ, let alone subscribed to it,” he said.
“I like Sherrod a lot,” added Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). “There are so many candidates that whatever their traits are that people are looking for, they’ll have their choice.”
What about his disheveled clothes, though? “Hey, look at Bernie Sanders,” Hirono said.
His scratchy voice? “There’s nothing he can do about that,” she said.
Surely Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Clinton’s running mate in 2016, would have these concerns about Brown’s prospects. He suggested something profound: male presidential candidates don’t face anywhere near the same level of scrutiny over their voices and clothes as female presidential candidates.
“It’s all a double standard,” said Kaine. “The single most overriding memory for me from 2016 is the gross double standard applied to Clinton because she was a woman. Everything from the FBI’s treatment of their two investigations [of Clinton and of Trump] to her insensitivity to her voice, her health, the way she dressed. It’s no accident we’ve never had a woman president.”
Asked if he thinks Brown smiles enough though, Kaine paused. “I’ve never thought about that question.”
“I don’t think Sherrod has ever even seen a copy of GQ, let alone subscribed to it.”
The more HuffPost raised concerns with senators about Brown’s smiles and vocal fry, the more the men were confused by the question and the women were thrilled HuffPost was doing this obnoxious story about sexist treatment of female presidential contenders.
“You didn’t hear that from me,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) insisted, when it was suggested Brown’s voice could be problematic. “Have you heard my voice? And I’ve been on the ballot 24 times in Vermont and I’ve won 24 times.”
“See, it’s kind of nice that you’re asking me all these questions about guys for a change, you know?” said Hirono. “That’s a change.”
Harris, who is already buckling in for months of criticisms about having just the right voice, hair, clothes and level of warmth to be president, laughed at the idea of Brown being considered unlikable on any of those fronts.
“Of course not,” she said. “I think you make a great point. An excellent point. Keep making it.”
For his part, Brown said nobody had ever asked him if he worried he had a likability problem. He started to question it himself.
“I always thought I was kinda a likable guy,” he said softly, his voice feeling even a bit tender.
You are, senator!
Brown got the point of the question though.
“It’s clear women are judged differently,” he said. “A lot of the criticism of Hillary was unfair in that way because she was held to a different standard from male candidates, and I see that. And I see that issue rising from time to time, or maybe more than time to time, this year. That’s all a concern to me.”