JVL
The Bulwark Presents
The Triad by JVL

How Warren Could Win

August 16, 2019
Featured Image
(Photo: GettyImages)

1. The Case for Warren

I’ve been consistently dismissive of Elizabeth Warren’s chances of winning the nomination. I have a number of reasons for thinking this and I am still quite bearish on her prospects.

But Walter Shapiro is very smart and he’s not so sure. He has a long profile of her over at the new New Republic:

If elected in 2020, Warren would enter the Oval Office at the age of 71 and would be the oldest newly inaugurated president in history. Despite the political culture’s frequent cruelty to older women (see Clinton, Hillary), Warren’s age is almost never mentioned by anyone—friend or foe—in the campaign. My hunch, in fact, is that if you asked Democratic voters whether Warren was closer in age to Biden (currently 76) or Kamala Harris (54), 87 percent would say “Harris,” and the other 13 percent would have “no opinion.” . . .There are two unalterable orthodoxies of politics. Every losing campaign is filled with aides peddling stories under the rubric, “If only the candidate had listened to me.” And with every winning campaign, said David Axelrod, “there is a lot of discussion that they’re inventing the wheel.”

Although they may now seem like the collective outcome of a carefully executed day-by-day plan, many of the striking aspects of the Warren campaign (the blizzard of footnoted position papers; the ban on high-roller fund-raisers; and the decision to, at least temporarily, avoid hiring an outside pollster and media consultant) were fairly ad hoc and incremental. They were also, Warren watchers agree, a reflection of the candidate’s own determined and focused character. As a Warren insider put it, “There was never a Saul on the road to Damascus moment” in the campaign’s first strategy sessions.

The most telling decision made at the outset was the heavy initial investment in staffers, particularly in Iowa and New Hampshire. This was not by any means a paint-by-numbers move; rival campaigns, such as those of Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg, waited until June to go on a hiring binge in Iowa. As a result, the media consensus is that Warren boasts the best ground game in the opening-gun states, which can make a significant difference in a close race. As top strategist Joe Rospars explained, “From a budgetary perspective, it’s fair to say that decisions about building your organization are because you can add media at the end. But you can’t go back and add organization.”

By late July, the Warren campaign had released 29 position papers on topics ranging from banning private prisons to doubling the size of the Foreign Service. The pace of this paper chase and the level of policy detail and supporting material are unprecedented since I began covering presidential politics in 1980.

Warren is clearly having a moment. Since June she’s doubled her national support.

And if you wanted to make a case for why she’s poised to become a front-runner, it would be the inverted yield curve. Warren’s Big Change candidacy is a very hard sell in time of general prosperity. It is a much more attractive pitch in a time of anxiety and recession.

It could be that the environment is changing in such a way as to become more hospitable to her candidacy.

But here’s the thing: Even if it is, it won’t change fast enough for Warren. We are 24 weeks away from Iowa. That’s it.

This field is not locked in amber. Things will change. Events will intervene. Candidates will stumble and drop out. But to go from where Warren is now to the top of the pack requires not just that everything goes right for her, but that everything goes wrong for everyone else. And there are a lot of everyone’s.

If the race was between Biden, Bernie, and Warren—or Biden, Harris, and Warren, or Warren and any two or three other major candidates, I’d be more bullish on her prospects.

But it isn’t. It’s a giant field with a single major frontrunner whose numbers have been durable for months, through good weather and bad. She’s in a pack with a demographic thoroughbred, a personality cult, and a youth movement with tremendous candidate skills.

It’s not that I don’t understand the political case for Warren. I do. I just don’t buy it.

Podcast
Michael Steele on the Malice Aforethought of Trump

2. Against Joe

We had a very good piece on Monday making the progressive case for Joe Biden.

I wanted to share an email from reader R.C. in which she explains why she is not on the Biden train (yet):

I have noticed how much you, rightly, admire the former vice president. In fact, sometimes the attitude towards the Democrats in general is “WHY DON’T THEY JUST CHOSE BIDEN AND MAKE THIS LONG NATIONAL NIGHTMARE END?!” which is, by the way, a totally valid reaction and opinion for anyone in the free world to hold. So, I wanted to explain where the anti-Biden sentiment is coming from within the party.

I’ll go further, actually, and add more context about why I think I might have specific insight on this. I worked on a Congressional race in 2018 – I was the finance director for [REDACTED]. We flipped a gerrymandered seat and won a highly contested Democratic primary in which we had all sorts of opponents from every corner of the party: Bernie supporters, union guys, single-issue candidates. This is all to say, I just went through this Democratic selection process on an infinitely smaller scale, and as a result, wanted to share what worries me about Biden:

  • He doesn’t have the same intuitive understanding of social media that Trump has, which in 2020 is a MAJOR liability. Biden, of course, will have the best people working for him, but there’s only so much a social media team can do on their own. In general, I worry a lot about Biden’s seeming ineptitude with technology. Like much of the party, I’m quite young. Technology is SO MUCH a part of our lives. I’d argue it’s the most important thing to my generation. So he loses points for that. Bernie (who I CANNOT stand) & Warren (she reminds me of my hippy dippy great aunt, what can I say?) are old, yes, but they are much better at least at managing a team of social media professionals than Biden.