In the week before the presidential election, Hillary Clinton remained the favorite to win. Moody’s Analytics, which accurately predicted the previous nine contests, forecast that she would finish with no fewer than 332 electoral votes against Trump’s 206. But, as we know, what was meant to be a historic, glass-ceiling shattering victory for the country’s first female leader resulted ultimately in her devastating defeat to a reality TV star with a history of misogynistic comments under his belt. So how did this defeat come about?
In her new book The Destruction of Hillary Clinton, Pulitzer Prize nominee, Susan Bordo, professor of gender and women’s studies at the University of Kentucky, examines the factors that led Clinton to the woods instead of to the White House. Chief among them, she suggests, were Bernie Sanders — namely, the way he positioned his campaign against Clinton during the primaries — and FBI director James Comey, whose inflammatory interference so close to the election has often been cited as having cost her the election. “The destruction of Hillary Clinton,” she argues, “while propelled by a perfect storm of sexism, partisan politics and media madness, was bookended by [these] two immensely powerful assaults.”
Where Donald Trump’s supporters were eager and willing to forgive his every fault and forget his every lie and scandal, a large swathe of the left was embittered by Bernie Sanders’ — “man of the people” — defeat and made it clear that their support for Clinton was reluctant at best. It was a race that should, Bordo suggests, have united the young, feminist Democrats the country over. But because of how Sanders chose to run against Clinton, positioning himself as the the “real” progressive against her and the “establishment” embodied. For Bordo this was something of a deja vu experience, witnessing a “charismatic male politician on stage telling women which issues are and aren’t progressive” — the struggle over reproductive rights and affordable child care, once again, didn’t quite make the cut.
Sanders disregarded, and by implication led his supporters to disregard, Clinton’s longstanding progressivism on women’s rights issues, and instead portrayed her as the “enemy of systemic change.” Not only was this “factually incorrect, but [it] proved politically disastrous in the general election” Bordo argues.
Speaking to The New Daily, Bordo explained a key theme of the book’s analysis — the extent to which women in the public sphere have to tread an impossible tightrope. “On the one hand, if a woman seems too strong, too competent, then it’s likely to be seen as repellently masculine in a way that women are not supposed to be” she said. “But on the other hand, we can’t be seen as too soft or feminine, or we’re seen as incompetent.” According to Bordo’s analysis the election result should not really be so surprising.
Clinton will be appearing this Thursday at the 8th Annual Women in the World New York Summit where she’ll be interviewed by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. (If you can’t attend the event in-person, we’ll be live streaming the entire Summit on our homepage; bookmark it! And check out the agenda here.)