By Earl Ofari Hutchinson, Contributing Columnist
There was not a single moment during the 2016 presidential campaign that one or another Republican Party operative group didn’t drop a subtle hint or launch a flat out open attack that a woman president shouldn’t be in the cards.
The assaults were mean, dirty, vicious and sexist. But it was a constant throughout the campaign. It was something Hillary Clinton had to spend much time and effort fending off.
But Clinton was a white woman. With Joe Biden’s selection of Kamala Harris as his running mate, it will be interesting to see what the Republicans do this time.
Normally, a vice presidential pick, woman or not, would be at best a political footnote to the presidency.
However, this time it’s different for two reasons. One is Biden’s age and possible health challenges. There’s also the hint of him only serving one term.
That would put Harris in a commanding position to make a run for the White House at the end of Biden’s tenure. That is why there was so much speculation betting on who Biden would pick.
Harris, a Black woman, will be on a red hot seat. In part due to the standard sexist hints and innuendos slung at a top woman candidate and in part due to race.
Race first. Trump and the rest of the Republicans will steal pages from the playbook it used in the assault on former President Barack Obama. That was naked race baiting, questions about his patriotism, his competence to hold the office and magnifying every alleged failure of his before and during his tenure in the Oval Office.
Obama overcame the non-stop barrage of digs, innuendoes, and insults and had a successful presidency. But he was also a man. That provided a partial shield from some of the worst of the Republicans’ political venom.
Harris won’t have that shield. The overt attacks will be bad enough, but just as worrisome is the deeply ingrained belief in many women that the Oval Office is a man’s office. The idea is that the president must be tough, aggressive and decisive and that takes a man.
Yes, hundreds of women have won seats in Congress and in legions of local elections over men. And yes, at that level it’s the long needed and awaited sea change in how many women see women candidates in head-to-head challenges versus men candidates.
But there are thousands of congressional and state offices, but only one president. This is where the old thinking still rears up about the presidential office being a man’s office.
In one poll taken during the 2016 presidential campaign, nearly 70% of men and women were lukewarm at best in answering the question whether they thought women were “respected” in politics. One out of four respondents flatly said that there would never be a woman president, and the most optimistic thought it would take at least another five years before that happened.
Trump exploited that sentiment to the hilt. He may be the biggest sexist, misogynist, female abuser that ever sat in the White House, but he’s still seen as brash, tough and outspoken. For many women, that seems to mark him as having the right stuff to be president.
This same litmus test will apply to Harris, because she could be president in the case of any Biden health issue, or if he elects to serve only one term. All eyes will be on her from the start, and she will have to find a way to crack this deep engrained gender silliness.
There’s another hurdle: the women who ultimately voted for Trump.
Nearly half of the women who backed him didn’t fit the small town, small mind branding. They were college educated, middle class women who lived in the suburbs. They not only didn’t like Hillary Clinton, but also didn’t like the idea of a woman sitting in the Oval Office.
The Biden campaign understands his vice presidential pick will draw massive fire from Trump, the GOP, and the echo chamber right wing talking heads. It will be ugly and vicious and will combine all the racial taunts and digs that were tossed at Obama and the same type sexist taunts and digs that were tossed at Clinton. Just what steps Biden will take to parry the coming assault is unclear. However, the watchword is be prepared for the worst.
Harris is not running as a vice-presidential candidate. She’s running as a defacto Democratic presidential candidate. The result of the 2016 presidential election sadly proved that she will have her work cut out to make sure Trump and the GOP’s race and sexist assaults don’t stick.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of “Biden Versus Trump: Who Will Win” (Amazon). He also is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One and the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.