This is not going to be the anti-Elizabeth Warren blog. I’ve been pretty consistent saying she is a (distant) second-best option for the Democratic Party to run against Donald Trump in 2020, but that anyone other than Bernie Sanders stands a good chance to lose. I may sound biased for saying so, but I have two things going for me:
- We already tried the experiment of running a centrist against Trump. Trump won, and won convincingly.
- There are already enough people in the media telling you that Sanders is unelectable. You don’t need one more.
Krystal Ball, a journalist for The Hill, recently provided a segment that surprisingly goes against the popular media narrative. The piece can be seen here, but also attached is a video if you don’t feel like reading the transcription. I’m going to break some of it down, since I feel like she hits all the right notes in a way that I’m not good enough at explaining:
So, here’s the poll. It’s a big one from the Des Moines register of likely Iowa caucus goers and it has Warren claiming the lead over Biden and Sanders slipping to 3rd place at 11%.
Now it’s one poll and as you all know, I think the media dismisses and vastly underestimates Sanders chances. Other polls have found him in good position in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and California, but there are other trends here which are undeniable.
The media has a way of downright ignoring every poll that sheds favorable light on Sanders — such as those early primary states that he is actually doing pretty well in — and vastly overrating national polls (that are oftentimes taken from calling landlines, of all things) that are less relevant.
But a poll is a poll, and I would be operating with blinders on if I didn’t take into account that Elizabeth Warren has indeed captured the momentum of the Democratic race. She has siphoned support both from centrist Biden backers and Progressive, mostly white, Sanders supporters. This was always going to be her key to winning the nomination.
Now in another cycle, I would have been thrilled by a potential Warren nomination. For one of the more progressive members of the senate to be our party’s standard bearer would have seemed to be a wonderful thing.
In 2015 I begged Warren to run and to challenge Hillary. Warren was an outsider populist warrior who had yet to have her fire dimmed by the ways of Washington.
But now, if I’m being honest, the thought of Warren as our nominee fills me with dread. Her courting of the Dem establishment has made me skeptical that she’d really break the kneecaps required to bring the “Big structural change” she’s fond of talking about.
I think the middle stanza is the key here. The Year Of Elizabeth Warren was supposed to be 2015, and had she run there is a decent chance she could have succeeded where Bernie Sanders failed. I believe the only reason Sanders ran in the first place was because there was literally nobody else to make an attempt at dragging the party to the left.
Now, Bernie had no business doing as well as he inevitably did. Even in his wildest dreams he didn’t expect to take something like 45 percent of the pledged delegates, or rally so many working class Americans behind the ideas of Medicare For All or free public college. Anti-establishment campaigner Donald Trump ended up beating the establishment-backed Hillary Clinton in the general, but it was Sanders that presented the longest lasting threat to the political system.
Liz Warren would have had an advantage on Hillary in 2015 for the simple fact that she, too, was anti-establishment at the time. A lot of Bernie’s appeal was that Clinton was historically unpopular, and Warren would have enjoyed that as well. The big difference, I think, is that Liz was also a woman, only with the added benefit of sharing most of Bernie’s ideas.
But what really terrifies me is that Warren is likely to lose to Trump. And if Warren loses to Trump not only will we have the utter catastrophe of 4 more years of national destruction, the establishment and the media will all blame us progressives for the loss. They will say we wanted to go too far too fast. That we would have wiped the floor with Trump if only we had run Amy Klobuchar or Steve Bullock instead of AOC senior.
And then it will be another generation before we have a chance to run a real progressive for president again. If the country even survives that long.
Again, we are on track to just repeat 2016 all over again. Once Hillary lost in embarrassing fashion to a failed businessman and gameshow host, the MSNBC’s and CNN’s of the world were quick to blame progressives for staying home and voting third party. Before they tried to spin Russian interference into the narrative that stole the election from Clinton, they first wanted to let everyone know that the people to blame were not the millionaires running Hillary’s campaign, or the billion dollars she spent, or the candidate herself; instead, it was ordinary voters, those with no money and no power.
Since then, Warren has moved further to the center. She no longer supports Bernie’s Medicare For All plan, nor does she reject corporate cash. But if and when she loses to Trump, the media will actually try to say that she was too progressive, and that turned off too many voters. In reality, the opposite is true: the further Democrats move to the center (or right), the less chance they have of winning.
But the truth is, the reason Warren is likely to lose has nothing to do with ideology and everything to do with culture. To put it quite simply, Warren is a wine track candidate. As much as she wants to run as the down home Oklahoma girl, she hasn’t been that betsy for a long time.
Be honest, do you really believe that is the candidate who can beat Trump? This is what pundits consistently fail to understand.
Voters do not choose candidates because of their ideological fit. They choose them because of their cultural fit. It’s no accident that the first to fully fall for Warren were the post-grad types. The folks who have successfully ascended the meritocracy and jumped through all the collegiate hoops.
They fundamentally believe in the system because it’s worked for them. They want to help working and lower class Americans, sure, but they don’t actually trust them. “I’ve got a plan for that” is like a magical elixir to this group.
I’m too focused on policy to spend enough time on culture, but Krystal Ball is right. Working class, generally Democrat-leaning, voters are frustrated with the way the system is treating them. They don’t want a candidate who is going to offer them incremental change. They want a candidate — much like Trump (in his own way), and much like Sanders (in his own way) — who is going to tap into their anger.
Ever since Bill Clinton and the New Democrats, the Democratic Party has moved away from organized labor and become the party of meritocracy. This is why the “coastal elite” liberals are a thing. Because they have ascended to being bankers, lawyers, and doctors, but where 50 years ago they would have been Republicans, now many of them are Democrats. They believe in the system because they are society’s winners.
But what about the people who aren’t making a hundred, or two hundred, or five hundred thousand dollars a year? What about ordinary minimum wage workers who can’t afford decent health insurance, or who can’t afford to spend $50,000 a year to send their kids to college? It’s those people who the system has left behind, and they are the voters the Democrats should be fighting tooth and nail to retain, or get back.
There’s a reason why Biden and Bernie tend to appeal to working class voters and have broad overlap between their coalitions in spite of their ideological distance. Neither has taken an overly intellectual approach. Both make an appeal to emotion.
Biden to nostalgia and Bernie to righteous anger. There’s a reason why Warren and Buttigieg have broad overlap between their coalitions in spite of having very different ideologies.
Both have a pitch centered specifically around essentially how smart and special they personally are. Behold my resume. Behold my plan. This appeal to white papers, intellect, and resume items frequently wins the day in the peculiar battlefield that is the democratic primary.
It’s funny that Warren and Pete Buttigieg are paired together here, because recently I was talking to my older brother and said “I feel like if Warren is the nominee, Buttigieg would make sense as her running mate.” Something about a Midwest girl turned Harvard professor, paired with a gay guy who speaks a bunch of languages and is former military, just makes perfect sense with the identity politics Democrats are all about.
The ticket that will win, and in a landslide, is with Bernie at the top and Warren as his VP. Then you could bring out the progressive vote while still maintaining the centrist wine moms and coastal elites that Warren could fetch. Truth be told, a lot of those elites would undoubtedly vote for Trump for tax purposes, but by that point it really wouldn’t matter. Those elites would be offset by millions of people who otherwise wouldn’t vote.
But it’s a catastrophe come November. Especially against the master of emotional lizard brain appeals, Donald Trump. After all, just consider the numbers, a winning candidate will be able to motivate new working class voters of color or flip Obama/Trump voters. Preferably some of both. There is no indication in Warren’s base of support that she’s particularly likely to do either.
And then there’s Pocahontas. Is it a culturally acceptable nickname? No it definitely is not. Is it brutally effective? Yes it is.
Because what it really signals as my friend Saagar has pointed out is that Warren is fake. That she says she’s the beer drinking Oklahoma girl when all of the cultural signaling is Harvard professor.
Many liberals are feeling real progressive for supporting Warren, but what they are really supporting is an idea. That idea is the same I mentioned before, that the system does work, and if you work hard enough, and go to school, then you can be like Elizabeth Warren and ascend up the economic and political ladder. It’s a great idea. So good that many people still think of it as the American Dream.
Unfortunately that idea died a long time ago, at least for the 99.9%. College is no longer affordable. Working hard and going to school isn’t an option for the overwhelming majority of Americans. Those making $30,000 per year or less — which half the country is — are more worried about putting food on the table, and paying rent, than they are wondering which major university their kids will one day attend. In present-day America there are only haves and have-nots; it’s not a matter of being a hard worker.
That’s why the best option, the only option, should be to back the candidate who has policies to help working people. The one who believes healthcare should be a right for everyone, and who believes higher education should be paid for not by going into debt for the rest of your life, but rather the bankers who ruined the American economy and who use money that doesn’t belong to them to speculate — or gamble, essentially — in the stock market. The money that can pay for everything we need doesn’t, and shouldn’t, come from the working and middle classes. It should come from the billionaires, and ultra-millionaires, who have benefitted so much from the economic system.
Bernie Sanders is never going to be President, but not because he would lose to Trump. He will never be President because he will never make it out of the Democratic Primary. Even if he did have 50% of the vote — enough to be the clear-cut winner of the primary, but not enough to get everyone else to drop out — the DNC would just steal it from him in a contested convention. None of this matters.
The Democratic Party doesn’t want someone who has the best interests of the people in mind; they want someone who has the best interests of their donors. For that reason, they are going to continue pushing people like Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden, or Kamala Harris, or Pete Buttigieg. Literally anyone but Sanders. Just don’t let the working class candidate win.
Warren is going to lose. Just don’t be surprised when it happens.