Is Elizabeth Warren finished? Is her putative presidential campaign over before it has even begun?
So say a growing number of political pundits and reporters. Her home state newspaper, the Boston Globe, which urged the Massachusetts senator to run against Hillary Clinton in 2016, now claims that she is a “divisive figure” and suggests that “there’s reason to be skeptical of her prospective candidacy in 2020.” The New York Times argued on its front page that “the lingering cloud over her likely presidential campaign has only darkened” as a result of her now-infamous DNA test to prove her Native American ancestry. Times reporter Astead Herndon quoted members of the senator’s inner circle saying they were “shocked” and “rattled” by her decision to take the test. Other critics have pointed to recent polls, both at the national and state levels, which suggest that support for a Warren presidential bid is waning.
My response? Ignore them. Only a few months ago, these same pundits and reporters were singing from a different hymn sheet. In May, a poll found that Warren was leading the field of potential Democratic presidential candidates in New Hampshire with 26 percent. In July, New York magazine put her on its cover with the headline “Frontrunner?” As recently as October, CNN’s Chris Cillizza and Harry Enten explained “why Elizabeth Warren is #1 in our new 2020 rankings.”
Pundits are fickle. Memories are short. Polls go up and down.
Warren, however, remains a formidable and ambitious politician; a proud progressive with a long track record of taking on the rich and powerful — and winning. Remember the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau? Her role in blocking Larry Summers from the Federal Reserve chairpersonship? Her recent bills to tackle corruption in Washington and put workers on the boards of big corporations? Yes, she is “divisive” — and for good reason!
Don’t get me wrong: She has taken a real hit in recent weeks, both from the racist right — “Pocahontas!” — and the social justice left — “Racial science!” Clinton once said that Warren “gets under [Donald Trump’s] thin skin like nobody else” — which makes the senator’s decision to dance to the president’s racist tune by taking a DNA test to prove her Native American ancestry, and then releasing a video to publicize the results, so bizarre:
As a whole host of right-wing Republicans and bank bosses have discovered over the years, dismissing Elizabeth Warren is a fool’s game. You think the former professor and progressive icon is done? That she can’t win in 2020?
Ask her former GOP opponent, Scott Brown, who Warren replaced in the Senate in 2012 — and who, for a time, seemed unbeatable — if he agrees. The then-Harvard academic, who had never held elected office, ended up beating Brown by 8 percentage points after mounting an insurgent left-populist campaign against him. Remember her passionate, off-the-cuff speech on redistribution at a supporter’s home in Andover, Massachusetts, which went viral in September 2011? “I hear all this, you know, ‘Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever,’” she told her living room audience. “No! There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.”
She continued: “You built a factory out there — good for you! But I want to be clear. 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.”
Listen to her comments in full, as more than a million people have on YouTube:
Ask Mitch McConnell if he agrees that Warren is finished. In February 2017, the Democratic senator was in the midst of giving a speech criticizing then-attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions, and reading from a letter by Coretta Scott King, when she was interrupted and then shut down by the Senate majority leader. “She was warned,” he later explained. “She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” It was a PR disaster for the Republicans, as those last three words became a feminist rallying cry for the anti-Trump resistance, while #LetLizSpeak trended on Twitter.
Watch McConnell trying to silence Warren on the floor of the Senate, as 2.7 million people have on YouTube:
Ask the hosts of CNBC’s “Squawk Box” if they agree that the senior senator from Massachusetts is done. The three of them tried to take down Warren in a live TV interview in July 2013. They failed. Host Brian Sullivan argued that new regulations couldn’t prevent banks from taking risky bets and going bust. “No, that is just wrong!” Warren responded, schooling him on post-New Deal history, as she pointed out that none of the big banks failed in the 50 years after Glass-Steagall was passed.
Hear her explanation in full, and watch her humiliate the CNBC trio, as 2.5 million people on YouTube have:
Ask former Wells Fargo chief executive John Stumpf if he agrees that Warren is down and out. “What have you actually done to hold yourself accountable?” she asked the stuttering bank boss, as he testified in front of the Senate Banking Committee in September 2016. “Have you resigned as CEO or chairman of Wells Fargo? … Have you returned one nickel of the millions of dollars that you were paid while this scam was going on? … I will take that as a ‘no’ then.”
It was a bravura performance. She “tore him a new Stumpf-hole,” joked late-night host Stephen Colbert. Watch her smackdown of Stumpf, as 1.7 million people have on YouTube:
Are we supposed to believe that these viral videos of Warren in action, bashing bankers and ridiculing Republicans, are all irrelevant now because of a single, misguided, five-and-a-half minute video about her ancestry? Or that her longstanding campaigns for fairer taxation and better regulation, or her ferocious attacks on racial and income inequality, should take a back seat to this row over her Native American heritage? Seriously?
This is one of the few Democratic senators who needs no encouragement to take the fight to Republican politicians, or greedy bankers, or right-wing pundits. This is a white liberal who isn’t afraid to call the criminal justice system “racist” from “front to back,” or demand action against “the lingering effects of housing discrimination,” or highlight “the staggering gap of wealth between white communities and communities of color.”
To be clear: I am not endorsing Elizabeth Warren for president or saying that she is the perfect person to battle Donald Trump in 2020. The DNA test was a worrying misjudgment; a self-inflicted wound. She still lacks people of color in her inner circle. Her recent foreign policy address, while a step in the right direction, was nowhere near as radical as Bernie Sanders’s speech on U.S. foreign policy in 2017. And, unlike the socialist senator from Vermont, Warren is a proud capitalist who continues to believe “in markets right down to my toes.”
But it would be a mistake to write her off when the Iowa caucuses are still 14 months out and the presidential election itself is almost two years away. And while I understand why the right wants to engage in racist attacks about her ancestry, and misogynistic attacks about her being “schoolmarmy” or “screechy,” it is sheer madness for progressives to join in the trashing of a senator who — with the exception of Sanders — has done more than any other politician to shift the Democratic Party to the left in recent years. Why would anyone interested in justice or equality want to undermine or diminish her voice? Do they really need to go back and watch all those videos again?
In fact, I suspect most progressives will be energized by her campaign once she formally declares and begins addressing rallies in Iowa and New Hampshire. Flush with cash, Warren will be one of the more impressive and idealistic Democratic candidates come 2020 — with a better stump speech than Joe Biden, a more progressive platform than Beto O’Rourke, and a stronger critique of Wall Street than Kamala Harris and Cory Booker combined.
My advice to her Republican opponents, Democratic rivals, and media critics: Write off Elizabeth Warren at your peril.