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Women who run

Kathleen Parker

Conventional wisdom in my inner circle of sorcerers and sources has been that the first female president will be a Republican. This is because America is still mostly a center-right country, and voters would feel more comfortable with a conservative-leaning woman. So goes the thinking.

Republican Nikki Haley, former South Carolina governor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, no doubt concurs.

While she waits out President Trump’s possible second term, Democrats have filled their bench with enough declared women – six at last count – that one wonders why we’re always talking about men. Given the bulk of media coverage, one would think the only candidates were Joe, Bernie, Beto and Pete.

But, what about Amy, Elizabeth, Kamala, Kirsten, Marianne and Tulsi?

Until recently, being a woman meant a presidential candidate could count on special attention, if only for her rarity. 

The challenge for these six female candidates is how to stand out. Fortunately, or not, some have already made headlines with their uniqueness. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar reportedly ate a salad with her comb when an aide delivered her lunch without plastic utensils. Call her utilitarian, or a mother of invention, but never call her hungry.

Another tactic might be to claim Native American heritage, as the history-haunted Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has done. Even though DNA testing indicated that she does, indeed, carry a teensy-tiny fraction of Native American blood, she’s forever saddled with Trump’s nickname for her, “Pocahontas.” This is a shame given Warren’s considerable intellect, her passion and her professorial grasp of complex policies.

In politics, you only have to do one monumental- or minuscule-but-memorable thing, and that thing becomes your persona, identity and legacy. A single impression can catapult a candidate to instant popularity or condemn her to infamy.

Similarly, Klobuchar has been characterized as an unholy boss. Again, a shame. For Klobuchar is a levelheaded, centrist pragmatist and surely capable of handling Trump in a fair debate. But comb-cuisine is an unappetizing image, to say the least, and other Draconian tales abound.

Now let’s turn to New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who will be most remembered for pushing the ouster of former Minnesota Sen. Al Franken following sexual misconduct allegations. Democrats may have manned the #MeToo battlements, but they sure didn’t like losing one of their favorite senators, and may be unforgiving.

Another candidate cursed with controversy is Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who two years ago met with Syrian genocidal dictator Bashar Assad and called the U.S.-backed opposition “terrorists.” Marianne Williamson is a New Age self-help specialist beloved by Hollywood. Say no more. Kamala Harris, a former California attorney general and now U.S. senator, is perhaps best known for her prosecutorial zeal during Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination hearings. Great for the primary, disastrous in the general.

These pithy summaries aren’t meant to be disparaging or dismissive, but reductive identity is the bumper sticker of fate. This time around, there will be no female nominee or president – but not because of their being women. They will lose like men – because they weren’t right for this job at this moment – a feminist feat in itself.

Be not dismayed, for a female president is coming soon, likely in 2024. She’ll be a woman of color, a real Indian (with parents from Punjab), a Christian, a Republican, a wife and mother with Southern manners, statewide governing experience and an international profile. Wouldn’t that beat all?

Kathleen Parker’s email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.