• Ryan O'Connell

Off to the Races...With Elizabeth Warren!

January 2, 2019

We’re off to the races, the 2020 presidential races, that is, with Elizabeth Warren jump-starting the competition. Warren’s move will increase the pressure on other possible candidates, including three other Democratic women Senators, to launch their campaigns soon. At least we’ll be able to talk about other politicians besides you-know-who. That will be a relief, so Warren has already performed a public service.

Warren is a darling of the left wing of the Democratic Party, which is both a strength and a weakness. She faces competition from other “progressives”, notably Kirsten Gillibrand, who has rebranded herself as she tries to outflank Warren on the left, and Bernie Sanders, of course. Warren may also face resistance from the party establishment. Many Democratic politicians consider Warren divisive, saying her rhetoric is often strident or even harsh.

Only a fool would try to handicap any Democratic politician’s chance of winning the nomination at this point. We’ll leave that exercise to others. In the meantime, it’s worth taking a look at Warren’s pros and cons, since she has plenty of both. We should also address the elephant—or the donkey?—in the room: with the stakes so high, should the Democrats nominate another woman for President or play it safe, by choosing a man?

Advantages Over Clinton

Warren probably has some advantages over Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate. She is not weighed down by the “baggage” that the Clintons carried, such as making some poor judgments as they avidly pursued personal wealth. So far, Warren’s personal life and finances seem squeaky-clean, which should be an asset, particularly in this presidential campaign.

Warren is a forceful public speaker, so she may be a more inspiring campaigner than Clinton, who was often lackluster on the stump. However, a presidential campaign is grueling, with candidates constantly under the spotlight, so let’s see how Warren fares. In the Senate, Warren has had a tendency to lecture those who come to testify before committees she’s served on. She’s not the only Senator to engage in such behavior, of course, but Warren would be wise to avoid that approach on the hustings.

Warren Kicks Off The Democratic Race

At 5’ 8”, a standard height for a woman, Warren stands about four inches taller than Hillary Clinton. Warren appears fit and trim, too, while Clinton had gained weight and sometimes seemed tired on the campaign trail. Warren’s looks are neither an asset nor a liability. These are not sexist comments; candidates’ physical attributes are key to forming voters’ impressions of them.

On the negative side, Warren, 69, is only one year younger than Hillary Clinton. She’s a spring chicken compared to Bernie Sanders, 77, and Joe Biden, 76. But the presidency is a very demanding job, and the desire among many Democrats for a new generation of leaders is palpable. That may favor other potential candidates such as Beto O’Rourke, 46, and Kamala Harris, 54.

Although she’s very popular in her home state of Massachusetts, Warren’s political instincts are not always sound. She did not fare well in the Pocahontas War with Trump, for example.

However, the video launching her all-but-official campaign is not just polished; it’s moving. The film skillfully punches a lot of the right buttons, with plenty of pictures of minority voters--a possible problem area for Warren, particularly if Kamala Harris or Cory Booker enters the fray. Warren has a compelling life story, and she’s developed an overall narrative, a core message. That’s something which Hillary Clinton never accomplished.

In the video, Warren focuses squarely on working-class and middle-class Americans’ struggles, and she doesn’t pull punches. She attacks Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts and she talks about “corruption” as pictures of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan float across the screen. Her direct approach will energize some voters, but it may turn off others.

Stuck in The Past?

Warren bashes the banks in the video, which is troublesome for several reasons (this is The Wall Street Democrat, after all). Her obsession with banks feeds the narrative that the Democratic Party is inherently anti-business. Warren has used her bully pulpit in the Senate to attack specific bank CEOs by name, and she has at times been careless about the “facts” underlying her criticisms. That’s unusual and disappointing.

In addition, Warren seems stuck in the past on this front. After the financial crisis, her party and her President passed the Dodd-Frank Act, which put U.S. banks on a much sounder footing. Banks have much higher capital levels, they had to exit some risky businesses, and the Federal Reserve conducts in-depth stress tests. But Warren talks as though nothing has changed since 2008 and banks are a menace to consumers. That’s an odd priority at this point. Will voters care?

Warren also takes on other industries, attacking insurers for seeking to make a profit rather than help sick people and oil companies for “trying to destroy the planet”. That’s dramatic but over the top.

Part of the problem is that Warren, an academic for most of her life, is anti-business. The Senator has proposed legislation that would require any company with over $1 billion in revenues to allow its workers to elect 40% of its directors. The law would apply to private as well as publicly traded corporations. Her idea thrilled millennials disenchanted with capitalism, but it would be an extraordinary intrusion by the federal government into the business world. It’s the kind of proposal one might expect from a law professor, not a practical politician.

Warren is undoubtedly sincere in her views, and her message may resonate with many progressive Democratic voters. But will she appeal to independent voters, moderate Republicans, and working-class whites? Or will she come across as a snooty liberal concerned with esoteric issues that don’t affect their lives?

The Donkey in The Room

Can the Democrats dare to nominate a woman as their candidate to oppose the Bully-in-Chief? Or would that risk another backlash from male voters (and some female voters) and a defeat in 2020? Can they afford to roll the dice, when the stakes are so high?

There are risks, no doubt, but there are also some hopeful signs. In spite of her flaws as a candidate, Hillary Clinton did win the popular vote, and by a comfortable margin. Female Democratic candidates for Congress did very well in the recent midterm elections. They rode a wave of support from energized Democratic women, volunteers and donors…and also from moderate Republican women disgusted by Trump’s behavior and policies. Trump won’t change, so those Republican voters could be up for grabs again in 2020. They might like to see a woman heading the ticket.

In any case, primary campaigns are a wonderful proving ground. We’ll find out soon enough if a Democratic female candidate can connect with Midwestern and working-class voters. If one can, we won’t need Joe Biden, and he can enjoy his golden years.

The Wall Street Democrat

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