Credit Photograph by Melissa Golden / Redux
Here is a New Year’s resolution for Democratic women in politics: be at least as brazen as Republican men are in deciding whether to run for President. It’s not just that Donald Trump had no record of public service and a long list of what might be considered disqualifying attributes and actions. Ben Carson had no experience in elected office, and other candidates had very little. Marco Rubio was greeted as the future of the Party when he decided to run just two-thirds of the way through his first term. That was only two years’ more experience in the Senate than Ted Cruz, one of the final contenders, had. In 2017, there will be a dozen Democratic female senators with more experience. And why limit it to the Senate, or to any particular level of elective office? Women, in all professions, tend to feel that they need to make their résumés perfect before putting themselves forward. Maybe they should stop thinking that way, at least in American politics, where insiderness does not seem to be particularly valued at the moment. Here’s another test to think of before asking whether a woman is enough of a national figure to jump into the Presidential race: How well known was the state senator Barack Obama in 2004?
Hillary Clinton will not be the first woman President. But Americans are ready to elect one: despite the real misogyny that Clinton faced, this was a close election. And they should do it soon. (As Margaret Talbot notes, when it comes to women’s issues, Ivanka is not the answer.) Here is a list of potential candidates to get started. But the premise—that there is room for a woman who isn’t one of the very few that party leaders and commentators think of as “ready”—means that there are a lot of names missing from it. Send them in.
1. Amy Klobuchar, senior senator from Minnesota. Popular, practical, appealing, progressive—picture her, for a moment, on a debate stage with Donald Trump, cheerfully taking him down. Why shouldn’t she beat him? Klobuchar has been in the Senate since 2006. When a Minnesota television station asked her, just after the election, if she might consider running in 2020, she said, “We just got through a Presidential race, and I love my job and what I do now, and more than ever we need people in the Senate that can work across the aisle.” We might need people like Klobuchar in the White House even more.
2. Elizabeth Warren, senior senator from Massachusetts. She’s already won some Twitter wars with Trump, whom she can rival as a communicator. And she knows something that a lot of Democrats, it seems, don’t: where she wants the Party to go. The drawback to a Warren candidacy is that it could lead Democrats to wallow in the what-ifs of 2016, when there was a push among progressives for her to run, rather than focus on the possibilities of 2020.
3. Tulsi Gabbard, U.S. representative from Hawaii, combat veteran. She resigned her position on the Democratic National Committee to endorse and campaign for Bernie Sanders, whose name she placed into nomination at the Party’s Convention. (At thirty-five, she is less than half Sanders’s age.) She would come into the race with the good will of his supporters. She is the first Hindu member of Congress, could she also be the first Hindu President? Maybe it’s worth finding out; that’s what primaries are for. She was one of the few people who came out of the Podesta e-mail hacking looking reasonably well, thanks to messages from Democratic donors about their clumsy attempts to punish her for backing Sanders. For a sense of her untranslatable poise, watch the video, below, that she made for Sanders ahead of the Hawaii primary, which he won.
4. Kamala Harris, attorney general and senator-elect from California. She is charismatic and deserves credit for some of Clinton’s popular-vote margin, which was largely racked up in California, where people came out for the Senate race. As a state attorney general, she confronted financial institutions. That won’t hurt in 2020.
5. Claire McCaskill, senior senator from Missouri. She has won election in a red state twice—in 2012, by beating Todd Akin in a race that gained national attention because of his outrageous comments about women, “legitimate rape,” and abortion. One benefit of a McCaskill candidacy would be her willingness to mix it up. She has also been criticized for tweeting a bit too much and too adeptly—but is that a minus or a plus?
6. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer. Sandberg is ambitious and talented and a far better businessperson than Donald Trump. (She helped build Google; she could also help fund her own campaign.) And she also has some public-service experience, in the Treasury Department, where she worked with Lawrence Summers. She could lean in on the debate stage. Sandberg supported Clinton in the Presidential election, and, when Democrats were assembling a Clinton Cabinet of the mind, she was mentioned as a possibility for Commerce or the Treasury. Maybe it’s time for her to start thinking about her own Cabinet picks.
7. Kirsten Gillibrand, junior senator from New York. She is just a couple of steps behind Hillary Clinton, in terms of her relations with leading members of the Party establishment. She’s sometimes said to want the big job a little too much—but let’s throw that thinking right out. An ambitious woman who sees a path forward for herself is a good, good thing. Gillibrand has also been exemplary in her efforts to get women to run at all levels of public office. Coming from New York, where there is some money to be found, won’t hurt.
8. Maggie Hassan, governor and senator-elect from New Hampshire. She has the executive experience; this year, she won a tight, tough race against Kelly Ayotte, and her victory and the turnout she inspired may have cost Trump New Hampshire. Maybe she can cost him the White House.
9. Val Demings, U.S. representative-elect from Florida. “I carry a 9-mm. gun in my Dooney & Bourke that was a gift when I retired from the police department,” Demings told Marie Claire, in 2012, when she first ran for Congress. Demings, who had been the first female police chief of Orlando, didn’t win that time, but she was back in 2016. An African-American, she overcame the poverty and the segregation of her childhood in Florida (a swing state, if anyone needed to be reminded). In every respect, she is a determined fighter and a compelling presence. Also, Demings’s husband would be the first former sheriff to serve as First Spouse.
10. Tammy Duckworth, U.S. representative and senator-elect from Illinois, combat veteran. Duckworth lost both her legs when the U.S. Army helicopter she was flying was shot down over Iraq. She wouldn’t be the first President to rely on a wheelchair, though she would be the first not obliged to keep it secret. Her debate against her Republican opponent, Senator Mark Kirk, gained some attention when he responded to her pride at being a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution with a crack about not knowing that her “parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington.” Her mother’s family is Thai-Chinese; on her father’s side, there is a record of military service that goes back to the earliest days of the nation. She could find new ways for her family to serve the country.
11. Tammy Baldwin, junior senator from Wisconsin. Another Tammy, and another woman who has found a way to win in a state that has recently favored Republicans. Baldwin has been credited with helping to make sure that the provision allowing young people to stay on their parents’ insurance until the age of twenty-six was part of Obamacare; that measure has been so popular that Trump is claiming that he’ll protect it. She voted against the Iraq war and is known, generally, as a strong progressive, and as one of those trying to find a new voice for the Democratic Party. An anxious assembler of traditional markers of “electability” might note that she is openly lesbian. (She was the first openly L.G.B.T. person of either gender elected to the Senate.) Here’s an answer to that: So what? Those are two words that women in politics should be saying a lot more often.
And, because President Trump could use a primary challenge, here are a couple of Republican women, too:
12. Susan Collins, senior senator from Maine. Collins was one of the few Republican leaders who clearly stepped away from Trump during the campaign. She is also one of the few remaining moderates in the G.O.P. A run on her part might bring some focus to those Republicans who are thinking again about what their Party has come to stand for.
13. Nikki Haley, governor of South Carolina, U.N. Ambassador-to-be. Here’s a potential plot twist: Haley, who was reasonably clear-eyed about Trump during the campaign, comes to her senses after working for him for a while, quits loudly, and runs against him. Getting foreign-policy experience to run for President in 2024 may be why she took Trump’s offer. Maybe she should get that plan going sooner.