Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a fiery populist on the left, announced she is forming an exploratory committee for a 2020 presidential run.
Her earnest plea for working people and her attack on the rich and powerful provide a stark contrast both to President Donald Trump’s right-wing economic agenda and to more centrist Democrats. (“Billionaires and big corporations decided they wanted more of the pie. And they enlisted politicians to cut them a bigger slice.”)
Warren is the first in a batch of Senate Democrats - Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kamala Harris of California, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Sherrod Brown of Ohio , to name just four - likely to announce early in 2019. In this case, being first doesn’t really confer any benefits, especially when one announces on New Year’s Eve when most Americans aren’t focused on politics.
She enters the race with several advantages. While she is 69 years old, she is a fresher face and less crotchety than Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., whose frontal assault on capitalism puts him to the left even of Warren. She already put out a compelling anti-corruption platform that goes after everything from corporate lobbyists to Trump’s emoluments. She is, even her opponents concede, whip-smart and exceptionally knowledgeable about bankruptcy and financial reform. In addition, she has already developed a network of supporters and is a proven fundraiser.
Warren, however, is a less formidable candidate than she was a year ago. The Post reports: “While the race for the Democratic nomination is only starting, even Warren’s supporters acknowledge that she has lost ground in the last few months, both by her own hand and because the November midterm elections redefined Democratic success with candidates who were in many cases a generation younger.” Her effort to respond to Trump’s Pocahontas jabs with a DNA test was wildly perceived as a blunder, and by some in the party, offensive.
As a candidate, she at times hectors rather than inspires, sounding more like an activist/law professor than a compelling leader. (Contrast her style to that of President Barack Obama, who sported a very similar résumé but was a gripping speaker who assumed the role of movement leader with ease.)
On foreign policy, she has a steep hill to climb to sound like a credible alternative to Trump, although foreign policy is unlikely to be the most critical issue for Democratic primary voters.
As with the hordes of other possible Democratic contenders, Warren’s challenge will be twofold. First, she’ll need to distinguish herself from the crowd (A less cranky Sanders? A more progressive Gillibrand?). While she may drain support away from Sanders, her toughest competitor for the blue-collar populism crowd might be Brown, whose everyman style and Rust Belt roots give him an advantage over a wonkish former law professor. Second, and perhaps most critical, is the challenge of finding a voice and a message that will appeal both to Democrats’ hearts and heads. Certainly, primary voters want to swoon over an articulate, charismatic figure, but more than anything, they want to win. Warren will have to wow voters with passion while convincing them she can hold her own against Trump, a task made harder by her DNA flub.
Jennifer Rubin writes reported opinion for The Washington Post.