Elizabeth Warren Would Have Annihilated Them
Last week, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan turned down something—the Republican presidential nomination—that wasn’t really his for the asking.
Ryan wasn’t quite Shermanesque. (“I will not accept if nominated,” William Tecumseh Sherman telegrammed the 1884 Republican convention, “and I will not serve if elected.”) But he came close. Republican officials covet the 46-year-old House speaker for a simple reason: They believe the last two guys standing in the GOP delegate count can’t win in November. Recent polls bolster this view: Either Hillary Rodham Clinton or Bernie Sanders beats Ted Cruz or Donald Trump in mock matchups.
Let’s be honest, though. These are four flawed candidates, which is why when two or more Republicans are in a room the talk turns to Paul Ryan. In a more muted fashion the same worry permeates the Democratic Party, which finds itself choosing between a 74-old senator who called himself a socialist until recently and a familiar face with lots of baggage, mainly about her credibility and character.
But the Democrats also had a knight in shining armor who chose not to run. Unlike Paul Ryan, she could have amassed delegates the old-fashioned way—by winning primaries and caucuses. The 2016 campaign set up perfectly for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. If she’d run, we might not be paying any attention to Tuesday’s New York primary. Warren may well have locked up the Democratic presidential nomination by now.
Castrating Wall Street’s gluttons is supposed to be Bernie Sanders’ specialty, so when he stumbled recently in explaining his banker-neutering techniques to the New York Daily New editorial board, Clinton pounced. “I think he hadn’t done his homework,” she said.
Sanders’ bobble came just in time for the Democratic establishment. Heading into the New York primary, Vermont’s favorite socialist has bested the Clinton machine in eight of the last nine contests. It seems that the huge millennial generation has been “feeling the Bern” for a candidate who rarely dwells on gender issues. That’s actually part of what young women like about Sanders. They didn’t appreciate it when Madeleine Albright, the 78-year-old Bill Clinton cabinet veteran, said that “there is a special place in hell” for women who don’t support Hillary.
This was ham-handed, but appeals based on identity politics are hardly foreign to Democrats. “I am woman, hear me roar” appeals to millions of voters, not all of them liberals. So does Bernie Sanders’ “Break up the banks!” populism. To millennials, Clinton’s rejoinder that Sanders is unrealistic comes across as “No, we can’t”—the opposite of Barack Obama’s aspirational 2008 campaign.
One Democrat ties all these longings together. Want a female commander-in-chief? Do you desire an aspirational nominee? How about someone who would bring Wall Street to heel? Elizabeth Warren is all those things, in one person.
She’s crusaded against Wall Street while Clinton was pocketing half-million-dollar speaking fees from Goldman Sachs—and has been more effective about it than Sanders. It’s the issue that brought her into politics in the first place. Remember the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau? That was Warren’s idea. A Harvard Law School professor, she proposed it in 2007, headed up a congressional oversight panel on the financial crisis, and expected to be CFPB’s first director when the agency came into being as part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reforms.
In the face of GOP opposition led by Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, Obama wimped out and chose somebody else. So Warren ran for the Massachusetts Senate seat occupied by Republican Scott Brown—the one held for four decades by Ted Kennedy. A week after announcing her candidacy, she delivered a fiery speech at Andover.
“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own—nobody!” she thundered. “You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for.”
Mitt Romney considered this a hoot. He ridiculed it on the campaign trail. What happened next was that Romney’s name was added to the litany of those steamrolled by Warren. This array of those she has defied includes Richard Shelby, Barack Obama, and Scott Brown. If she had run for president, I believe that list would also include Martin O’Malley, Bernie Sanders, and Hillary Clinton.
When Hillary burst onto the national scene in 1992, Jerry Brown accused the Clintons of “corruption” and “conflict of interest” over how Hillary’s law firm benefited from Arkansas state contracts. “I suppose I could have stayed home, baked cookies and had teas,” she responded sarcastically.
Accusing the Clintons of comingling personal and professional funds now seems prescient—as Sanders has only belatedly began to discuss. As for baking, contrast Hillary’s comment with something posted on Warren’s Facebook page on February 14.
Accompanied by a photograph of herself with three children, Warren wrote, “My mother was born on Valentine’s Day, and when I was a kid I baked her a heart shaped cake each year. I still have the pans, and I still bake a cake. … But now, I do something more: I fight for more funding for NIH research so that mothers will get earlier treatment for heart disease to live longer, healthier lives—and they can celebrate more birthdays with their children and grandchildren.”
There’s no way to know, but I think Warren would have routed Sanders and Clinton—and would now stand poised to give Cruz or Trump more than they could handle. I ran my hypothesis by several respected political professionals and pollsters I respect to see if they agreed. Most did.
Republican polling analyst Karlyn Bowman noted that in 2015 surveys, Warren ran behind Hillary and Joe Biden, but with surprisingly high name identification. Bowman added that Warren would have been helped by the Democrats’ leftward drift during the Obama years—and that 2016 exit polls have showed that huge numbers of Democrats believe the system favors the rich. “That would have been her calling card,” Bowman told me. “So I think she could have been a contender.”
Linda DiVall, a GOP pollster, wasn’t so sure. She thinks a significant and influential bloc of Democratic women “were already solidly behind HRC, it was Clinton's time—not Warren’s.”
But Republican pollster Ed Goeas notes that Clinton’s “negatives,” in pollster parlance, are ominously high and that the only reason this doesn’t worry Democrats more is that Donald Trump’s are so much higher.
“Americans are not satisfied with their choices in 2016,” concluded Raymond D. Strother, a political consultant who worked on Bill Clinton’s gubernatorial campaigns and Gary Hart’s presidential run. “The solution for Democrats in this ‘Hold Your Nose Election’ was always in front of them, Elizabeth Warren. I would call her the Hill/Bern candidate, a perfect blend of policy and integrity. She would have blown away the field.”