She will not win.
The first thing to say, very loud and clear, is that we are too early in the race to say with any degree of accuracy who will win the nomination, let alone the Presidency; the twists and turns ahead are simply too unpredictable. That said, as Bernie decided to announce today, now is as gooder time as any to start looking at the candidates.
Enter, Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Lots has been written about her past, both in and out of Congress, so I won’t waste anyone’s time and recap that. Her campaign, as with everyone’s, is in the early stages and there is potential for it to go either way, but what I really want to get to is three reasons why I think she will fail to gain the nomination.
Warren is simply too unpopular for someone with her level of experience:
This is about as cut and dry as it gets in politics. She is too unpopular, she will not win enough votes, therefore she will not be nominated and won’t have the chance to run for President.
In 2012, Warren was nominated as the Democrat candidate, this time to contest a Senate seat. She won. With a record 95% of delegates’ votes. The only issue being she ran unopposed. Warren also picked up significant opposition from big business, but I don’t think that will bother her; in fact, it fits quite nicely into her narrative. This experience therefore wasn’t a great barometer of her popularity.
Six years later, she was elected for a second term as a Senator for Massachusetts, defeating her challenger by 24 points. To the untrained eye that is quite the result. Some Democrats can only dream of numbers like that. However, when you consider the context, it is far from impressive. Polling ahead of the November election, which considered the state’s partisan lean, its elasticity, and the national popular vote, predicted Warren would win by 39 points. The overall result then was 15 points short of where she could have landed. The largest deficit in the county: House or Senate.
This matters because she represents a Democrat heartland, not dissimilar to the first primary state, New Hampshire. The idea that the party could lose Warren’s state in a general election is almost unthinkable. The state has voted Democrat the last 8 times and only been flipped red a total of four times since 1928. Yet if the party’s nominee is unable to fulfil their potential in a highly partisan home state then they might be in trouble.
Candidates are starting to travel around Iowa and New Hampshire already, and there is more comprehensive analysis of this elsewhere (I will probably try some myself later in the year), but even at this stage, Warren is focusing energy in the liberally leaning New Hampshire.
I remember in 2008 when Hilary billed Iowa as her ‘do or die’ moment, expecting to win, or at worse, take a strong second place. She ultimately crashing into third (albeit going on to win NH a week later). I suspect Warren has a similar mindset in New Hampshire where she could benefit from the more liberal demographic, higher name recognition, and generally neighbourly relations. The Senator has already placed two of her senior staff in the state as New Hampshire Democratic Party’s political director and communications director. The problem for Warren is, she remains behind her Democrat colleagues, namely; Biden, Sanders, and Harris most recently.
She has also been quite vocal on her policy agenda and the type of messaging she will run on. Positioning herself as a ‘progressive’ and to the left, Warren has repeatedly distanced herself from Wall Street/large donations/PACs. In addition, she has worked very hard over the past half year to expand her political connections and network. During the midterms, Warren put in a huge shift for colleagues — making 172 post-primary calls, holding 61 one-to-one meetings, helping at 41 fundraisers, and sharing 63 policy papers.
The crux though, is that these moves have to be a means to an end, and that ‘end’ isn’t what Warren would have had in mind. Polls from CNN, Morning Consult, Harvard-Harris, Emerson, and Des Moines Register put Biden as the favourite from at least the middle of October last year, where he only drops his double digit lead twice.
Alternatively, Warren’s best number was a mere 9 (Jan. 16, 2019) and averaged 5.46 across 13 polls. Similarly, monthly polls for the New Hampshire primary have shown her drop 2% points and slide one place (to forth) from January to February. If Warren’s campaign wasn’t active yet — like Biden and Sanders (until today!)— this wouldn’t be too bad, but her efforts are simply not having the desired effect. The saving grace for negative news at this stage though is that it is still very early in the race.
Unfortunately I don’t have the data, but I suspect Obama (announced February 2007) and Bill Clinton (announced October 1991) would have polled similarly badly 21 months before their general elections, but for them, it was primarily an issue of name recognition. Warren is now a two-term Senator and is one of the better known in the current primary field. She will need to start seeing better bang for her buck if her candidacy is to have any possibility of success.
Her Democrat colleagues:
Looking at the current crop of candidates (whom I will explore individually throughout the series), I think Warren has two colleagues that will give her trouble. Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar.
Warren has positioned herself firmly as a left-wing, progressive candidate. And rightly so, I don’t question the sincerity of her beliefs. But let’s start with Bernie and the problem(s) he could cause:
In the aforementioned polls above, Bernie finished second in every single one; often polling three, four, or even five times better than Warren. As of his decision today, he is readily primed and in a more attractive position than she is.
As Bernie’s campaign begins then it is likely he will split the progressive vote thus radically reducing Warren’s chances, even in the more liberal primary states (i.e. New Hampshire). What is even more concerning however is that because Bernie is not really a big D, Democrat, his supporters’ affiliation isn’t as focused on the party as they could be. We saw this in 2016 when one in ten of his supporters voted for Donald Trump instead of voting for a Democrat president. There is absolutely no guarantee then that Bernie’s supporters will be looking further afield.
There are worrying signs from the moderate wing of the party, too. I think it’s fair to say that Amy Klobuchar is the most ‘moderate’ candidate in the field at the moment — she’s pretty open about engaging with Republicans and will only go as far as universal health care, shy of embracing Medicare For All in the way others have. This is fine, of course, it is politics and part of how she is elected and re-elected.
But, remembering the Democrats won the popular vote in 2016, they need to be smart in their strategy to win in 2020 and winning the Midwest will be crucial to this. There is nothing that Warren inherently does which means she won’t do well in the Midwest, but Klobuchar is better positioned, ideologically and geographical. Ironically enough, it is one of Klobuchar’s only strengths at the moment. Once more, if voters wants to support a female candidate, but have concerns about Warren’s ideological position (i.e. electability), then Klobuchar hits the alternative bill.
Moreover, while there were some high profile progressive victories during the midterms, much of the Democrat success came from the suburban districts of Midwest and north eastern states suggesting that influential areas for the party might be more attracted to a moderate candidate, further hindering Warren’s chances.
Donald Trump is a Filet-O-Fish eating bear pit that will be very, very hard to handle, whoever gets the chance thrust upon them. Trump annihilated his GOP opponents during the primaries partly due to his ability to attach catchy nicknames to them (enjoy this list).
The President is already on the war path with Warren, championing the Pocahontas comments.
Her response at the end of last year was a tactically slick video, but strategically, it was badly timed and far from putting the issue to bed, it has added fuel to the fire. What is so damaging about ‘Pocahontas-gate’ is that it threatens to push her campaign past the point of no return even in February 2019. Trump will hit her and hit her and hit her on it; the rest will become background noise. The alternative? Trump doesn’t comment. And if he doesn’t comment, he isn’t worried.
It also casts doubts on her ability to take Trump on, which is without doubt the most important thing the Democrat candidate can do. Her message of anti-establishment is weirdly similar to Trump’s and her lack of ability to control an issue so early in the campaign will be raising red flags.
One final observation regarding Warren, particularly the message she has chosen to run on, is that she might have to be careful what she wishes for. Theoretically, as the party has shifted to the left, a two term female Senator, championing the middle class and fighting Wall Street would be rubbing her hands at the opportunity that 2020 presents.
However, the last 12 months have shown how unforgiving the party is for any misalignment of its new position. Even if Warren defied the odds and made it to the final two — perhaps against Harris or Biden — she will face a barrage of purity tests on all issues. Some within her own party will be leading this charge and actively wanting her to trip up. As her previous inability to control a message suggests, that even if Warren is able to ‘pass’ these issue tests, they will constantly be putting her on the back foot and be extremely difficult to definitively own.
The above are just three reasons why I don’t think Warren will win. They are interlinked and if the Senator improves in one or two areas then her campaign may well take off.
Warren is qualified and passionate about the issues she cares about, she is also a phenomenal fundraiser who puts even the best to shame; something that is particularly impressive considering her refusal to engage with big donors.
However, even if Bernie does not run, and she gets exclusive hold of the progressive narrative, she faces fearsome competition from her colleagues, the supports of whom do not necessarily have an interest in her success.
Most importantly, though, is her lack of popularity. She is just so far behind where she wants to be, and always has been in her elected career.
Elizabeth Warren will not be the Democrat candidate.