What will it take to elect a woman president? The question implies that there is something we need to do to make all the conditions right for it to “happen.” The buzz is already growing to a roar around Hillary Clinton in 2016. Her tenure as secretary of state and her almost-nomination in 2008 have made her the defacto vice president in waiting, as if Joe Biden has already passed on it.
But if Hillary Clinton runs for president, can she win?
In our 2012 book, (free super saving shipping on Amazon-sorry no drone delivery yet-and it makes a lovely holiday gift) Theodore Sheckels, Diana Carlin and I took a case study approach to women and the American Presidency, Gender and the American Presidency: Nine Presidential Women and the Barriers They Faced. We asked: what must a woman do or have to win the presidency? In this article I put Hillary Clinton’s potential candidacy through the results of our research, the “top ten” test to ask: Can she win? This top ten list doesn’t take two other big reasons women struggle to win elections — misogynistic media treatment and that many people lie when they say they’d vote for a woman, but it does look at some other serious obstacles. Spoiler alert: It looks good for her. Reality check: Anything can happen in politics from now till 2016.
1. Credentials Women not only have to have government experience but successful campaigning experience. Her Secretary of State tenure has put Hillary Clinton through the credentials test. In particular, her extensive travel as secretary of state—to 112 countries—demonstrated a people to people diplomacy that strengthened her own and the credibility of the US.
2. Fundraising Women who are being considered for the presidency must have the ability to raise the money necessary for a long, expensive campaign. Her war chest is growing each day with an aggressive fundraising Super PAC in place, “Ready for Hillary” headed by George Soros.
3. Charisma Women who are being considered for the presidency must be charismatic or, at least, dynamic. Hillary Clinton has proven to be a popular global figure, despite initially being cast as a polarizing first lady. Once she ran and won the senate seat in New York and almost won the democratic nomination for president, she moved from the formidable charismatic shadow cast by Bill Clinton into her own spotlight. She is now a sought after speaker who exemplifies confidence, brilliance and first name recognition. Take that, Cher.
4. Assertiveness A woman, however, cannot push that dynamism too far, for women who are being considered for the presidency must not be overly assertive or aggressive. After years of vilification that characterized her as a B—-, she has grown more appealing. Is it her self-effacing humor, her loss to Obama (in Hillary’s case, it seems everybody loves a loser), or perhaps her relatable disclosures about looking forward to becoming a grandmother– who knows, this is like parlor games, however any or all of these things and others may have humanized the once strident figure who was often portrayed as the one adult in Bill Clinton’s youthful administration.
5. An Attractive Appearance Women who are being considered for the presidency must be attractive and, furthermore, must expect their appearance to be front-and-center in the media coverage of a campaign. Her appearance still garners attention, but no one could say it distracts from her message as it once did when her hairstyle often got more attention in the press than her ideas. Though this sometimes still happens, Hillary Clinton has managed to avoid it more times than not lately.
6. The Right Look Women must look the part. Her consistent look (pant suits, carefully coiffed hair…) is right for her and no longer takes center stage in press coverage.
7. The Denis Thatcher Spouse Women who are aspiring to the presidency must have no “spouse problem.” Bill Clinton has been disciplined in his ability to stay out of the limelight during her tenure as secretary of state. He will need a repeat performance if she runs for president. Since I believe Bill Clinton can morph into whatever he wants to, I think he can do this if he wants.
8. Heterosexual Orientation At least for the present, women who are aspiring to the presidency should be heterosexual. We have found this to be true for male political candidates as well. Though her sexual orientation has been questioned for years, mostly by right wing media, there seems little dispute that Hillary Clinton, who entered onto the public stage as the wife of Bill Clinton, is heterosexual. Not that there is anything wrong with not being heterosexual, the public, historically has not been kind to gay candidates and at the national office level, I believe it would only be worse.
9. Restraint When It Comes to Playing the Gender Card Women now aspiring to the presidency must remember that their gendered struggle resonates with only a part of their audience. Although she occasionally refers to her gender, she has not made it the main focus of her message. She leads with her vision for the country.
10. Rhetorical Finesse A woman aspiring to the presidency must possess considerable rhetorical finesse. All of her political experiences have been ample preparation for her rhetorical skills. She has proven deft—in debates, interviews, in small groups and on a big stage—in appealing to her various audiences.
If Hillary Clinton can continue to overcome these barriers, and if the public wants her to be president (that second one is the a pretty big ‘if’ because we are a fickle bunch–there seems to be a clear path for her to get there.