Ever since Elizabeth Warren dropped out of the presidential race, I’ve been mad at my husband. Just a week earlier, two canvassers for Bernie Sanders had shown up at our door with flyers. “We’re Warren people,” my husband told them, something I later joked was the most romantic thing he’d ever said. But in the days leading up to Super Tuesday, when our state of California hosted its primary, I watched him grow more and more agitated about the possibility of Joe Biden, a candidate who was not progressive enough for either of us, becoming the nominee. So for the first time in the eight years I’ve known my husband, we voted differently—I voted for Warren and he cast his ballot for Sanders.
All primary season long, I’d smugly listened while several other friends in heterosexual marriages complained about their husbands not taking Warren seriously. As they told it, their husbands seemed convinced that Sanders had a more radical vision for the country’s future and that he was less willing to compromise his ideals to get things done. But the promise of compromise and collaboration is what attracted so many of my friends to Warren in the first place. They saw her willingness to work with others as a strength, and grew frustrated trying to explain to their husbands why they thought this pragmatic, measured approach was a better way to meet many of the same goals.
Sanders and Warren voters seemed to be divided on a macro level as well. According to Washington Post reporting on Super Tuesday exit polls, while both men and women were more likely to vote for Sanders than for Warren, Sanders consistently received a greater share of his votes from men than Warren did. (Warren consistently got more votes from women.) Such a pattern is not visible among Biden voters. These numbers can’t prove that men avoided Warren because she was a woman, and my friends’ husbands insisted they preferred Sanders for substantive policy reasons. My husband, I had thought, understood without me having to explain that Warren not only represented the promise of the country’s first female president, but also had a plan for all the issues that mattered to us, such as gun control and universal child care. When he voted for Sanders, even though he told me he still thought Warren would make the best president, I felt an irrational sense of abandonment. I wondered whether he and voters like him had cost Warren the nomination.
On Thursday, at the news conference when she announced she was dropping out, Warren said, “Gender in this race, you know, that is the trap question for every woman. If you say, ‘Yeah, there was sexism in this race,’ everyone says, ‘Whiner!’ And if you say, ‘No, there was no sexism,’ about a bazillion women think, What planet do you live on?”
Patricia Fancher was a Sanders voter in 2016, but voted for Warren on Super Tuesday. “I didn’t vote for her because she’s a woman, but I think her leadership style does include feminist values: collaborations, intersectional agendas, she listens and works with communities,” she told me in an email. Fancher’s husband, though, was a Sanders supporter through and through. Fancher said her husband recognized what Warren faced. “He knows on an intellectual level that sexism is real and it hurts women,” she wrote. “But I was never able to convince him that acting in solidarity with a woman candidate with a strong feminist agenda could be a vital way to resist the sexism that informs so much of our lives.” Fancher said that divide felt personal.
During the 2016 primaries, I, too, loved Sanders’s plan for free health care and college tuition more than I loved the symbolism of voting for a woman. But in Warren’s 2020 bid, I saw that choice collapse. I wouldn’t just be voting for a woman, but a woman who had radical ideas and a practical plan for how to carry them out. Not just a female candidate, but one whose campaign platform also felt feminist to me. Atima Omara, a political strategist who trains and consults with women candidates, saw Warren’s campaign centering women. “She still had all the progressive agenda items around the economy—but it was filtered through the lived experiences of gender and race,” Omara told me. “That was reflected in plans around paid family leave, race, affordable housing, how redlining affected African American communities.”
I know Warren wasn’t perfect, but neither were the other candidates, and she seemed willing to learn from her mistakes. She showed measured kindness and justified rage in her town halls and on the debate stage. She wasn’t promising a revolution the way Sanders was, but in my mind, voting for a competent, radical woman was the revolution. To my husband, though, her qualifications were not enough, and most voters seemed to agree.
My husband and I started dating just before the 2012 election. After the results of that election came in, he texted me that yes, it was great that we got four more years of Barack Obama, but what he’d really be excited for was to vote for President Warren one day. I reminded him of this recently, and he maintains that he would’ve liked to see her in the White House. But when we had the chance to choose, I saw him vote for strategy over idealism, a decision I suspect many felt forced to make after Warren went from front-runner to underdog. After a few tearful conversations in the week leading up to Super Tuesday, I could not make my husband understand what seemed so monumental to me about Warren’s campaign. To him, what was important was avoiding a contested convention, and he told me he saw his vote for Sanders as one against Biden, the more moderate establishment candidate. “And Bernie is one of the good guys,” he said. “But he doesn’t get as much done as Liz,” I replied weakly.
After we voted, I told him I was upset that the Democratic Party had not prioritized a woman and/or a person of color, and that he didn’t support a woman with a real shot at the nomination—a candidate he loved— when it mattered. He was understandably defensive. I wanted him to say he regretted his vote, and all he could truthfully say he regretted was that the country had made his choice for him long before he cast his ballot. I felt frustrated with him for giving up on the candidate we both loved before it was over, and frustrated with myself because trying to persuade him to vote for a female candidate made me feel at times as if I were asking him to use his vote for sympathy rather than strategy. I just wish voting for a progressive woman didn’t feel like a once-in-a-lifetime chance, so rare that it would cause me to silently fume at my own husband for making a different decision.
The heartbreak of watching Warren be punished for her ambition was familiar to me after the 2016 election, in which Hillary Clinton had suffered similar scrutiny. What is unfamiliar is the loneliness I feel in my grief, something I haven’t been able to share with the person closest to me, because of the different choices we made this time. Instead, I’m buoyed by group texts with my female friends who know how it feels to need the space and time to grieve the four coming years in which a woman will not be president. I only hope that the vote I just cast is not the rare chance it seemed, and that whoever the first progressive woman president is, my husband and I can vote for her together.