Sen. Warren Seen as Key Figure in Uniting Dems
As the Democratic primary heads toward a predictable but potentially acrimonious conclusion, questions abound about how the party can unite and invigorate itself. One solution often mentioned by party operatives hoping to quickly heal: Elizabeth Warren.
The Massachusetts senator is likely to be an integral figure in rallying the troops around the Democratic ticket, whether she is a part of it or not.
Warren’s potential was on full display Tuesday night, when she used a speech at a Washington gala to excoriate Donald Trump, calling him “a small, insecure money grubber.” Earlier in the day on Capitol Hill, Warren launched a new coalition of lawmakers and union leaders designed to “take on Wall Street.”
Warren has built a national profile on progressive issues that have been at the heart of the party’s primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders; she has a particular resonance with Democrats on rhetoric and policy that is distinct from both presidential candidates.
“You might argue she is the ideal person” to help unite the party, says Lynda Tran, a Democratic strategist and veteran of President Obama’s White House campaign.
Warren has ruffled feathers in the party and is a committed warrior for progressives. At the same time, she has been a loyal team player who raises vast sums of money for Democrats and campaigns for candidates up and down the ballot. Her populist message resonates in places where Clinton and President Obama aren’t welcome, and her workhorse mentality in the Senate has endeared her to congressional Democrats.
"She's a rock star, and there's a real hunger to see her get involved,” says Sean Downey, a former Obama campaign operative and Democratic strategist based in New Hampshire, where Warren will keynote a party convention next month. "A fundraising email from her or a Web video gets people more excited about Democrats, gets more people involved, and motivates small-dollar donors"
Most recently, Warren has raised her general election profile by fashioning herself into an attack dog against presumptive Republican nomine Donald Trump.
“@RealDonaldTrump trolls for votes & wants working ppl to believe he's for them. News flash, Donald: working ppl are smarter than you think,” she tweeted this week. “@realDonaldTrump: Your policies are dangerous. Your words are reckless. Your record is embarrassing. And your free ride is over,” she wrote the week before.
Warren seems to be delighting in the tweets. At a commencement speech at Suffolk University in Boston last weekend, she joked about her rise in politics: “I never imagined I would get into a Twitter war with Donald Trump.”
Trump has engaged as well, calling Warren “goofy” and re-invoking the controversy over her claimed Native American heritage, to which the senator responded on Twitter, “Lame!” Democrats welcome Warren’s tirades against the nominee and believe she can help steer Sanders’ supporters who might be inclined to vote for Trump in the general election to instead back Clinton.
“Elizabeth Warren is uniquely positioned in this election cycle because everything she has spent her life fighting for, and how she’s spent her short career in the Senate, are exactly what voters are looking for this cycle,” says Boston-based Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh. “Because of her message and how fearless she is, she has put together, in short order, a national grassroots network that may be second only to Sanders -- and may eclipse it.”
Warren’s value is so high this cycle that Democrats are reluctant to find fault with her. Strategists note that President Obama, who is popular among Democrats and who this week reached his highest approval rating since his second inauguration, will be the most important figure in unifying the party in the general election. Vice President Joe Biden is also a vaunted surrogate, as is former President Bill Clinton, who has been actively campaigning for his wife. Still, Democrats rate Warren’s abilities and network close to those ranks.
The idea of Warren as a key surrogate for the Democratic nominee might also delight Republicans, who view her as extreme and believe her involvement in the general election could repel independents or moderates in a campaign in which Clinton has already moved left.
Republicans often criticize the 2010 financial reform bill known as Dodd-Frank, which Warren played a key role in crafting. She conceived that law’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Trump has pledged to repeal the law. (Facing Republican opposition, Obama didn't nominate her to run the bureau. Warren then ran against Republican Sen. Scott Brown and defeated him handily in 2012, winning back Ted Kennedy’s former seat for the Democrats.)
Warren has advocated expanding the financial reform law to rein in big banks and has focused on that effort in the Senate. In 2014, she threatened to hold up a must-pass budget bill because it included a provision that would roll back a part of Dodd-Frank.
The Massachusetts senator is much harsher on Wall Street than Clinton, and Sanders has attacked his opponent for giving paid speeches to investment banks. Clinton now uses language like a “rigged” economic system and has advocated for punishing bankers who break the rules.
Notably, Warren is the only Democratic female senator who hasn’t endorsed Clinton. That she has held out figures to give her credibility among Sanders supporters after the primary. “She has been extremely thoughtful in ‘doing no harm’ throughout the 2016 primary season by making clear she thinks both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have done well for the party in waging a substantive debate during the primary,” says Tran. “That response is as on-message as any party stalwart could hope for -- and it sets Elizabeth Warren up to be a unifier."
That’s not to say Warren’s eventual endorsement of the nominee will come easy. Progressive activists view Warren as an indispensable part of the unification process and would like to see her have significant influence in the campaign in terms of policy and positions. Adam Green of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee expects Warren to want a say in executive branch appointments, an issue about which she cares deeply, and about what types of people will be brought into a new administration.
“The more that it’s clear that progressive economic thinkers ... will be considered for top positions, the more full-throated and authentic it will allow her to be in campaigning for eventual nominee,” says Green, suggesting Warren could be asked to co-chair a presidential transition committee.
Warren isn’t likely to seek out a cabinet position. There has been speculation she would be a good vice presidential pick on a Clinton ticket since her progressive values would appeal to Sanders’ supporters. But Massachusetts has a Republican governor, who would get to appoint Warren’s replacement in a year Democrats are trying to take back the Senate.
And Warren has an interest in helping Democrats do that. She is one of the party’s most prolific fundraisers for Senate campaigns and has worked closely with the party's Senate campaign arm to help candidates. She has been particularly effective in helping new candidates build out a digital infrastructure and has attached her name to fundraising emails from their campaigns and from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
"We’re grateful to Senator Warren for her continued focus on winning back a Democratic majority and her work to help candidates across the country raise the resources to run competitive campaigns,” says DSCC spokeswoman Lauren Passalacqua.
Another option for Warren could be the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention, considered a prime speaking spot. Past deliverers include then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton and a then-unknown senator from Illinois named Barack Obama.
Whatever role Warren plays in 2016, most agree her own future is bright. And she seems prepared for any unexpected opportunity that may come.
“All the planning in the world can’t prepare you for the twists that are coming your way,” she said in her commencement speech. “Don’t be so focused in your plans that you are unwilling to consider the unexpected.”