In a speech to supporters following a disappointing fourth-place finish in New Hampshire on Tuesday night, Sen. Elizabeth Warren took the time to quickly congratulate the night's winner, Sen. Bernie Sanders. But immediately after, the Massachusetts senator used her speech to give a bigger boost to someone else: Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
It was a show of solidarity based not on political vision, but on the two candidates’ shared gender.
“Right now, it is clear that Sen. Sanders and Mayor Buttigieg had strong nights,” Warren said. “I also want to congratulate my friend and colleague Amy Klobuchar for showing just how wrong the pundits can be when they count a woman out.”
While Sanders is her closest ideological analog in the race, Warren has been subtly aligning herself with Klobuchar, even before the New York Times’ dual endorsement. In a January debate, Warren pointed out that she and Klobuchar were the only candidates onstage who had never lost an election. And earlier this month she insisted that everyone but she and Klobuchar “is either a billionaire or receiving help from PACs that can do unlimited spending” (in the process lumping Sanders together with Buttigieg and Vice President Joe Biden, whose campaigns are funded by super PACs backed by real estate moguls and investment bankers).
Warren’s special shout-out to Klobuchar on Tuesday night seemed to affirm her burgeoning kinship with the Minnesota senator, which many observers of the Democratic primary contest celebrated as a display of women lifting up other women.
New York Times reporter Shane Goldmacher’s tweet remarking on how Warren had “elevated” Klobuchar once again, despite Klobuchar surpassing her in New Hampshire, was met with replies about the virtues of women supporting women. Laura Bassett, a former senior politics reporter at HuffPost, touted Warren’s signal of support for Klobuchar as an example of “shine theory,” a term coined by Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow to describe the practice of women elevating each other for their mutual benefit.
“When you meet a woman who is intimidatingly witty, stylish, beautiful, and professionally accomplished, befriend her,” Friedman advised in a 2013 piece for The Cut. “Surrounding yourself with the best people doesn’t make you look worse by comparison. It makes you better.”
But to view Warren’s small gestures of support for Klobuchar as feminist is to endorse a cynical version of feminism that insists that “women supporting women” is a de facto good.
In fact, many people have already used the supposed goals of feminism to shield Klobuchar from criticism about her alleged treatment of staffers, which reportedly involved yelling at and humiliating members of her Senate staff, threatening their termination, and throwing office supplies at them. In her defense, some loyal staffers argued that it was sexist to critique her management style, while several outlets ran op-eds to a similar effect, using the coverage of Klobuchar’s alleged abuse as evidence of a gendered double standard. Klobuchar herself said her behavior was the result of having “high expectations” for herself, in an apparent attempt to “conflate cruelty with feminism,” Ashley Reese wrote at Jezebel.
Is it to the indisputable benefit of women, one must wonder, to “elevate” a woman accused of this sort of behavior?
Beyond the allegations of workplace harassment, there is a significant political gulf between Warren and Klobuchar’s politics. Whereas Warren supports policies like Medicare for All and cancelling (most) student debt, Klobuchar considers these pie-in-the-sky fantasies, and has cast herself as a staunch moderate in the mold of Biden and Buttigieg. Recently, she even argued for being more inclusive of anti-abortion Democrats within the party—a significant departure from Warren’s stance on abortion, which she has taken further than simply “codifying” or “protecting” Roe v. Wade.
As Warren continues to backslide in the race for the Democratic nomination, it’s becoming more likely a bloc of her supporters will see Klobuchar as the next viable option—be it because of political ideology or because they want to see a woman in the White House. (Or both.)
If Warren believes her progressive vision for the country is the one that will most benefit Americans—not just women, but people of all genders—it makes sense to lend support to the other remaining progressive candidate in the race. Boosting Klobuchar will only help moderates coalesce around a candidate, and rally them in opposition to the political horizon Warren claims to be fighting for.