Hillary Clinton became the first woman presumptive presidential nominee for a major U.S. political party Monday night, inching closer to the invisible barrier that has kept women out of the nation’s highest political office.
Clinton surpassed the 2,383 delegates needed for the Democratic nomination, according to a tally by The Associated Press. She cleared the threshold almost exactly eight years after her concession speech to then-Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois in the 2008 campaign. After suspending her presidential campaign and endorsing Obama on June 7, 2008, she famously told supporters: “Although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it's got about 18 million cracks in it.”
Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said Monday that the former secretary of state won't consider herself the nominee until the primaries are over.
"This is an important milestone, but there are six states that are voting Tuesday, with millions of people heading to the polls, and Hillary Clinton is working to earn every vote," Mook said. "We look forward to Tuesday night, when Hillary Clinton will clinch not only a win in the popular vote, but also the majority of pledged delegates."
Having now taken another step toward shattering that glass ceiling, Clinton will --- perhaps appropriately -- face a Republican rival widely derided for his misogyny. Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee, has referred to women as “fat pigs” and “disgusting animals” and has made sexual jokes about his own daughter.
Even Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” has been criticized as sexist. It implies “‘we want to go back to a world where we were in charge of everything’ -- basically speaking to white men,” said Debbie Walsh, the director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. “That’s what it seems like she will be running against.”
In some ways, Walsh said, the rise of Trump may be a reaction by some conservative white men to the rise of Clinton. “Her being the nominee fuels that group of people that are feeling like the world has changed on them and they're not in charge anymore,” she said.
Since the first woman ran for U.S. president in 1872 and received zero electoral votes, women have fought an uphill battle for political representation -- including the basic right to vote, which only came in 1920. Forty-four presidents have been elected over 228 years -- all men.
The 2014 midterm elections brought a record number of women into Congress. But women still make up less than 20 percent of the electoral body, despite being more than half the U.S. population. The historical significance of Clinton’s candidacy in a country that has long lagged behind other developed nations in terms of basic women’s rights is enormous.
In an interview with HuffPost before Clinton clinched the nomination, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the prospect of finally having a female presidential nominee would be "a strong message about how far we have come."
"It's pretty exciting," she said.
In contrast to her campaign in 2008, Clinton has embraced the historic nature of her candidacy this time around. Back then, chief strategist Mark Penn argued that voters wanted a tough candidate, rather than “someone who would be the first mama, especially in this kind of world.”
But in her first debate this cycle against Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Clinton said that if she won the general election in November, “fathers will be able to say to their daughters, ‘You, too, can grow up to be president.’” When debate moderators asked how her presidency would be different from Obama’s, Clinton immediately responded, “Well, I think that’s pretty obvious. Being the first woman president would be quite a change from the presidents we’ve had, including President Obama.”
Anticipating the “the gender card” attacks, Clinton made rebutting them a signature part of her stump speech months before it became apparent that she would be facing someone who has been a misogynist for decades.
“I will do everything I can to protect a woman's right to choose and to defend Planned Parenthood,” she said during a speech in Iowa in October. “Now, I know when I talk about these things, Republicans say I'm playing the gender card. Well, if talking about equal pay, paid family leave, affordable child care, and women's health is playing the gender card, deal me in.”
By April, Trump had proved Clinton prescient, commenting that “the only card she has is the woman’s card.” He has not since backed off that line of attack.
While a Clinton victory in November would make history, a loss for Trump could too, for different reasons. In 2012, Obama beat Mitt Romney by 11 points among women, while Romney beat Obama by 7 points among men, leading to an 18-point gender gap -- one of the largest gender gaps ever recorded in a presidential election. Trump would almost assuredly top that gap.
Ellen Malcolm, the founder of Emily’s List, a group that helps elects Democratic women who support abortion rights, suggested that Republican women would be repulsed by Trump in the fall and “cross over” to vote for Clinton. Polls show that the vast majority of American women have an unfavorable view of the reality television star.
"I think we're going to have a gigantic gender gap in this election,” Malcolm told HuffPost. “Women always are and have been the core of Hillary's political support, and I think it's just going to be magnified by the outrageous behavior of Donald Trump."
Amanda Terkel contributed reporting.