Sheryl Sandberg for President?
Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg is preparing a robust tour in conjunction with her foundation activities this spring to promote her upcoming book, “Option B,” leading some Democratic operatives to speculate that she's mulling a 2020 presidential campaign.
In recent weeks, her staff interviewed young aides with campaign chops for the months-long project, according to a source familiar with the planning. Another called it “common knowledge” in Democratic Party circles that she is considering such a run.
“Option B” is not, by itself, a political platform from which to launch a presidential bid. It will not outline her worldview or serve as a compendium of positions on domestic issues. Rather, it is a personal book about grief and healing, describing what she experienced after the 2015 death of her husband, philanthropist and Silicon Valley CEO Dave Goldberg. Sandberg is working on the book with high-profile Wharton management professor Adam Grant.
But Sandberg admirers hope “Option B” will provide an object lesson for the millions of women coping with their grief after the election loss by the first would-be woman president and the now-imperiled causes she would have pursued. A description of the book by the publisher says it “offers compelling insights for dealing with hardships in our own lives and helping others in crisis,” adding, “It turns out that post-traumatic growth is common—even after the most devastating experiences many people don’t just bounce back but actually bounce forward.”
This was the underlying theme of Saturday’s Women’s March on Washington and its many satellite demonstrations around the country: how this new wave of feminism might be channeled into politics and action going forward. “Rally to Move Forward” was actually the name of the march that took place in Louisville, Kentucky.
“The question is whether this has been so shocking that it moves these young women to claim political power,” said MSNBC anchor Joy-Ann Reid. “I think for a while, it will.”
In an effort to make sure that the movement sticks, EMILY’s List took advantage of the influx of women into Washington over the weekend to train 500 prospective candidates for office the day after the protest, said organization spokeswoman Marcy Stech.
Does this necessarily set the table for a Sheryl Sandberg candidacy? Mo Elleithee, a former top aide to Hillary Clinton, thinks so.
“If the energy from this past weekend holds up, I think there will be a huge appetite for a strong woman candidate in the [2020 presidential] race,” said Elleithee, who is now executive director of Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service. “There are few women out there that I think could sort of step into that void the way Sandberg can. It doesn’t mean she’s the only one, but I think she could make a significant run at it, and I think everything she’s spoken to in the past would position her well for it.”
According to the website for Sandberg’s publisher, Penguin Random House, the book tour kicks off in New York City on Sunday, April 23, and will continue in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Boston in the following days. Neither the publisher nor Sandberg’s Lean In foundation staff responded to requests for additional information, but sources familiar with the planning say it will continue to locations in big book markets such as Texas and Missouri, tag-teaming off of her Facebook travel schedule.
From Facebook to the book tour to the foundation, which she doubled down on with a personal cash infusion in November, Sandberg's schedule already is jam-packed. But in a post after the election, she encouraged more women to run for office all over the country, and last weekend she spoke about gender equality on a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Sources wired into her inner circle at Facebook point out that Sandberg, a political appointee at the Treasury Department during the Clinton administration, has surrounded herself throughout her tenure in Silicon Valley with support staff members with political experience. The spokesperson for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential bid, Andrea Saul, for example, worked for Sandberg in 2013 while promoting her first book, “Lean In.” Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters has housed dozens of former political operatives who decamped from Washington.
Sandberg is also a loyal and reliable Democratic donor, contributing more than $120,000 to campaigns in the 2016 cycle, including $30,000 to the EMILY’s List turnout operation, “Women Vote.” She reportedly was eyeing a possible return to Washington as a leading contender to serve as Treasury secretary in a Hillary Clinton administration, though she said publicly she would stay at Facebook.
Although President Trump has been in office for mere days, Democrats are openly discussing how to unseat him in four years. Like the current president, Sandberg is a billionaire with a degree from an Ivy League school who has never held political office. Despite her previous government experience, she would be an unorthodox choice for a party that tends to respect government service—but also an ironic rejoinder to the Trump phenomenon.
“There’s going to be a real discussion about whether Democrats should follow the model of finding someone non-traditional to take on someone who’s been the most non-traditional, outside-the-system president we’ve ever had,” Elleithee said. He added that the lesson of 2016 is that the rules for political advancement no longer necessarily apply and that Sandberg “could shake things up on the Democratic side in the way that not a lot of other non-traditional candidates could.”
There are obvious contrasts with Trump, too. Where he communicates in instructive, simple sentences on Twitter, Sandberg writes in descriptive, emotional paragraphs on Facebook. While the new president, an early baby boomer, zeroes in on rescuing home-grown manufacturing jobs, the Generation Xer tech maven who made Facebook profitable travels the world celebrating entrepreneurship for creating new jobs in the digital economy. Where Trump champions a protectionist, “America First” approach to trade, Sandberg wrote in a Facebook post last week, “So far we’ve learned that small businesses that use online tools are more confident, and those that engage in international trade are more likely to create more jobs.” And while Trump honed his on-camera experience with his brash hosting of a reality show on a broadcast network, Sandberg conducts warm interviews with book authors on Facebook Live.
Perhaps most glaring, where Trump bridles at criticism, Sandberg has internalized the most painful critique she received for “Lean In.” Former Obama administration official Anne-Marie Slaughter took issue with Sandberg’s philosophy that women can control their own fate in their careers and families. In a Mother’s Day 2016 post on Facebook, Sandberg wrote: “Some people felt that I did not spend enough time writing about the difficulties women face when they have an unsupportive partner or no partner at all. They were right.”
She ended that post pushing for paid maternity leave and a change in public and corporate policies with respect to how families are defined and recognized. In so doing, she might unintentionally have made herself a vessel for Americans determined to see those policies enacted by a woman in the Oval Office. Or, some may say, she might have made herself Option B.