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How the press' 2016 debacle created the 'electability' debate about women in 2020

The repercussions of the 2016 presidential campaign continue to be felt on the unfolding 2020 contest. The good news is a record number of women candidates took the cue from Hillary Clinton's groundbreaking run as the Democratic nominee. The bad news is, they're being forced to deal with the media failures from previous election cycles, and that's being felt via the ongoing debate over so-called electability.

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The pragmatic emphasis on finding a nominee who can win in November seems to be a key concern of many Democratic voters because of the huge threat Donald Trump poses to the country, and the overwhelming desire among Democrats to seize the country back from dangerous Republican rule. “It’s the anxiety of a party still carrying the scars of its 2016 defeat,” the New York Times recently reported. “The party finds itself grappling with the strangely enduring question of the electability of women—and with the challenge for the candidates of refuting it before it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.” The Times article left out the fact that Clinton got 3 million more votes than Trump, which undercuts the idea that maybe Americans aren't ready to elect a woman president. (Most voters wanted to in 2016!)

Still, there's little doubt that the concern seems real, as reporters have had little trouble finding Democratic voters to express the electability sentiment. “I think against Trump any woman is going to have difficulty with electability, that’s just kind of a reality we have to contend with,” one Iowa voter told NBC News, when asked about the possibility of a woman nominee. And yes, the electability chatter seems to be only centered on the many women candidates running for the White House, a clear case of ongoing double standards in play.

But here's the thing: The electability debate is, in large part, about the media. It's really about nervous Democrats saying, will the campaign press and Beltway media elites try to eviscerate a woman Democratic nominee the way they did to Hillary Clinton as she tried to make history? Will the press give Trump a pass against another woman nominee by regurgitating his crude, sexist insults? (The very first sentence of a recent Kamala Harris profile in The Atlantic featured Trump calling her “nasty.”) Will the press once again completely lose interest in policy coverage and what a Democratic president would do if elected, the way the press waved off that kind of candidate treatment in 2016 in order to make room for both Trump celebrity coverage, and more Clinton email updates?

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The truth is, the media's insatiable appetite to tear down Clinton, based on a decades-long distaste for her and her husband, didn't just keep her out of the White House: It effectively pushed back the entire idea of electing a woman president.

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