A Deeply Depressing Story About Kirsten Gillibrand's Sinking Ship

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New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is still running for president, but you’d be forgiven for forgetting that. A Politico story out Friday chronicles her failure to get a foothold in the double-digit field of 2020 Democratic candidates, despite once being hailed as a formidable contender. Now, she’s begging crowds to donate just $1 so she can make the debate stage.


It’s a deeply depressing read. The DNC’s current rules state that you need 65,000 individual donors and hit 1 percent in three nationally recognized polls to make the first debate. Gillibrand’s cleared the second hurdle—barely—but is short on donors, leading her to make pitches like this at campaign events:

“For anyone here, if you like what you’ve heard tonight, I want to earn my place on the debate stage. I can’t do it unless you send a dollar—literally, really,” Gillibrand says, shaking her head as though to acknowledge the oddity of this request. “The measure is for anyone who wants to be on the debate stage, you need to get 65,000 individual supporters. So please go to KirstenGillibrand.com and just send a dollar. It will help me get to the debate stage.”

Gillibrand isn’t the only 2020 hopeful who has resorted to this method. Tim Ryan’s website features pop-up advertisements asking for $1. And Michael Bennet’s spots on social media make an identical solicitation.

My God, what company!

So why has Gillibrand’s once-bright star all but fallen? Uh, something Hillary Clinton:

“Hillary won the election. She won the popular vote by 3 million votes, and you have to remember, she was definitely the most qualified candidate we’d ever had running for president,” Gillibrand says. “And, but for Russia, but for Comey, but for misogyny, but for a lot of things, she would have won. So, I believe that of course this country is ready to elect a woman president, but they need to know what we’re running on and what we’re for, and why we’re running and why we think we’re the best candidate.”

Apologies, but by the end, these words don’t mean anything.

The situation has gotten so dark that even (second tier) competitors’ staffers are trying to help her make the debate stage:

Things have gotten so grim for her that recently, a high-ranking campaign aide to Cory Booker—Gillibrand’s opponent for the Democratic nomination—tweeted that she had donated to the New York senator’s campaign and encouraged others to follow suit. This was done, the aide noted, to ensure that Gillibrand’s “important perspective is on the debate stage.”


And although she claimed to be a happy campaign trail warrior—as they always do—Gillibrand is clearly uh......not enjoying herself:

The look on her face when I mentioned Beto O’Rourke’s appearance on the cover of Vanity Fair was beyond description. “Unusual,” she finally mustered, biting her lip and her tongue at once, a litany of curse words no doubt suppressed underneath her smirk. “Never seen it before.”

And when I asked Gillibrand to name the worst part of running for president, she replied, “I don’t want to tell you.” She added that “it’s not an appropriate thing for me to say,” then promised to tell me later, off the record.


Finally, we get the the meat of one of the major (but myriad) reasons the senator has faded into the backdrop: She just doesn’t have much to say, and she’s very, very careful—not unlike Clinton, her former political patron—about what she says.

Pressed on what her least favorite part of running has been, she said it wasn’t “appropriate” to say on the record, but she later offered what must’ve been a fiery off-the-record comment.

Yet when it came to addressing the gender bias she believes is inherent to politics—a belief shared by many younger progressive women, a sizable chunk of the Democratic coalition—Gillibrand held back. Had her off-the-record answer been published, it would have gone viral overnight, racking up hundreds of thousands of clicks and instantly erasing any concerns about her small-donor disparity. But Gillibrand chose to be careful.


That’s a big issue! It’s not a political moment to be hyper-vigilant about alienating no one on the trail. Look at the two current frontrunners. Joe Biden is out there saying a lot of things that make me want to bash my head against a wall but which are clearly appealing to a certain sector of voters, while Bernie Sanders is drawing crowds by energetically talking about his vision for a more just society. The losing strategy, at least so far, seems to be sitting on the sidelines, waiting to be called on.

Managing Editor, Splinter