Is Elizabeth Warren’s Campaign Already Over?

Except for the shouting, yes.
March 1, 2019
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(Illustration by Hannah Yoest / Photos by GettyImages)

Forget the “Native American” stuff—Is Liz Warren a fake presidential candidate?

While the political press covering the 2020 Democratic presidential primary are focused on who’s getting in—“Joe Biden, Will He or Won’t He?”— Elizabeth Warren, the one-time front-runner and progressive rock star, is fading away.

Yes, it’s early. Iowa won’t cast the first ballots for another 330 days or so. And, yes, a once-moribund candidacy can bounce back to life, as both Bill Clinton and John McCain demonstrated on their way to winning their party’s nomination.  

But there’s a point where the numbers are so bad and the brand is so broken that there’s no foreseeable way forward.  And the Massachusetts senator has reached that point.

For Liz Warren, it’s all over but the shouting.

And, Lord, is there a lot of shouting.

Those of us who live in Massachusetts get to see a broader, more nuanced Elizabeth Warren.  She has a compelling biography from her days in suburban Norman, Oklahoma. She gives smart, academic takes on legal and economic questions. She’s pretty good at telling a story, too.

But that’s not the Liz Warren who’s running for president.  This is:

“Millions of American families are struggling to survive in . . . a rigged system that props up the rich and the powerful and kicks dirt on everyone else. The middle class… has been deliberately hollowed out!,” Warren cried in her official announcement speech last month.

“When I talk about this, some rich guys scream ‘class warfare!’ Well, let me tell you something, these same rich guys have been waging class warfare against hard-working people for decades! I say it’s time to fight back!”

For Liz Warren, everything is a “fight.”  

Her’s isn’t a presidential campaign, it’s “the fight of our lives.” Her mission is a “fight that began in the streets,” a “fight for big structural change” and, she repeatedly assures us, “I’m in that fight all the way!” She dropped the progressive’s “F-bomb” a total of 26 times in her announcement speech.  

Imagine Howard Dean stuck in “Yeargh!” mode and you’re pretty much on point.

So how’s it working? Not so much.

“Sometimes she can come off as a little shrill. I think she’s trying to appeal to a broader base than maybe she actually has,” Roger Lessard, chairman of the Hillsborough County, NH Democratic Party, told US News and World Report.

“I don’t know a single person who has her at the top of their list,” a New Hampshire Democratic Party insider tells me. “It’s not that people don’t agree with her policies. She just doesn’t get people that fired up here.”

This early in the 2020 cycle, New Hampshire Democrats are reluctant to either publicly sign on with a candidates or publicly criticize them.  But even in this cautious political environment, the silence around Liz Warren is deafening.

And given that New Hampshire is her electoral backyard, it’s potentially deadly.

Speaking of deadly . . .

There hasn’t been a public poll of New Hampshire Democrats with Warren in the lead since May. In fact, Warren consistently finishes in fourth place—or worse—trailing candidates like Kamala Harris and potential candidates like Beto O’Rourke.

But that’s just the beginning of Warren’s bad news.

Last May, Liz Warren had 26 percent support among New Hampshire Democrats and was leading the field. That summer, New York magazine featured her on the cover with the headline “Front Runner?”  But by August, she was down to 17 percent.  Last week, both Emerson University and the University of New Hampshire polls had her at a mere 7 percent.

When UNH asked an open-ended version of the “who do you support today” question (no names listed for the respondent to choose from), Warren got just 2 percent support, fewer mentions than Amy “The Comb Master” Klobuchar.

All right in Warren’s back yard.

No, New Hampshire isn’t the whole ballgame—but for Warren, it’s close.  It’s hard to see her campaign surviving a fourth place, or even third-place, finish in a state where, as key Democratic consultant Jim Demers notes, national coverage of Warren is on the local news.

“When Warren is campaigning in any state in the country, it’s covered by the Boston media market,” Demers says, which reaches the homes of most New Hampshire voters. In other words, they know Warren better than just about any candidate in the field, with the possible exception of Bernie Sanders. And yet, they still don’t like her.

Seriously—they don’t. From the new UNH poll:

Once again, these are New Englanders who see and hear from Warren regularly. And by a 2 to 1 margin, they more find her unacceptable than former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg who, in addition to his attacks on popular liberal proposals like Medicare for All, is an unapologetic Yankees fan.

The one thing Democrats do agree on regarding Warren is that her troubles have nothing whatsoever to do with her (ahem) “dubious” claim to be a Native American.  This proves that Democrats, like Republicans, are capable of ideologically motivated self-deception. The smart set may see the #Fauxcahontas fraud as low-brow comedy, but Warren’s downward slide coincides with new revelations regarding her Native American claims, beginning with the DNA fiasco last fall.

Then came the release last month of a Texas Bar document from 1986 featuring the phrase “American Indian” on the race line in Warren’s own hand. “I don’t see how she survives this,” one longtime Democratic consultant told me the day the story hit.

And it’s not over. Just this week, the Una Nation of Eugene, Oregon announced that they were granting Warren membership in their tribe.

“We’re granting her, as a gift, enrollment in the Una Nation,” Richard B. Lake III—AKA “His Majesty King Richard II Ziwahatan” told a local TV station. “When she’s asked next if she’s a member of the tribe, hopefully she’ll be able to say proudly ‘I’m a member of the Una Nation, who accept me for who I am,’” King Ziwahatan said.

Politically speaking, this “gift” isn’t particularly helpful. In part because it only serves to highlight Warren’s problematic claims of Native American standing. But also because the Una Nation…isn’t an actual Native American tribe.

Self-described “entrepreneur and businessman” Richard Lake, or rather “King Ziwahatan,” co-founded the group just 10 years ago as a tribe of what he calls “Indigenous American Mixed-Bloods.” It has no formal standing as a federally-recognized tribe.

But they have sent a “Certificate of Tribal Enrollment” to Elizabeth Warren, which means she’s now officially a “fake Indian.”  She’s even got the paperwork to prove it.

It’s easy to forget that, just a few years ago, there was a massive #DraftWarren movement urging her to enter the 2016 presidential race. Progressive groups like MoveOn.org spent nearly $1 million dollars pushing the campaign before Warren finally pulled the plug.  One of the people in that movement was Ted Bosen, a Democratic activist in what’s known as the “North Country” of New Hampshire. And he knows why it’s so hard to find a Warren supporter in the Granite State.

“They’re all with Bernie now,” he told me. “I was a Warren fan, I helped her in Massachusetts, I even got a letter in the Boston Globe urging her to run for president last time. Two guys who were with me in the ‘Draft Warren’ group then are now with me on Bernie’s team.”

They’re not alone. A December 2018 poll of MoveOn.org activists put Warren in fifth place, with an unimpressive 7 percent support.

Liz Warren isn’t going away. She started the race with $12 million left over from her Senate campaign, and she’ll raise enough to stay in. But the role she’ll play is as the candidate other lesser-known contenders compare themselves to. “Look,” Kamala Harris supporters are saying, “we’re already ahead of Liz Warren!”  “Wow,” the #DraftBeto kids tell themselves, “people like our guy more than Warren!”

Before it’s even begun, the Warren campaign has devolved into the role of a big-name, has-been boxer, one with just enough cache that the real contenders can make headlines by beating him.

Michael Graham

Michael Graham is politics editor at New Hampshire Journal.