As the Democratic Presidential hopefuls separate into tiers, MA Sen. Elizabeth Warren is by some measures displacing VT Sen. Bernie Sanders as the favorite among the Democratic progressives. While I have great respect for Sen. Warren’s intelligence and command of policy, and very much enjoy her feistiness, it seems to me that she might be the Democrat whom the President would most like to run against. Although Ms. Warren objectively scores well in a number of the measures that I indicated a while back I consider to be of paramount importance in selecting the Democrat that can defeat Mr. Trump, I would submit that in her case, the whole is unfortunately markedly less than the sum of the parts:
- Sen. Warren is tough. She will look strong on the stage against the President, and indeed, has a talent for getting under Mr. Trump’s skin. Her age – 71 at the time she would take office – is clearly not a problem against the older President and she looks and acts younger than she is. A ticket to a Trump-Warren debate would be worth Super Bowl prices. Even so, Sen. Warren may be the one Democratic candidate whose strength could be as much curse as blessing. More on that below.
- Ms. Warren, if not as rounded for the presidency as former Vice President Joe Biden, otherwise appears as or more intellectually prepared as anyone else in the Democratic field. She is deeply versed in the ways of the U.S. financial industry. She has a plan for everything to address the needs of our economically disadvantaged people (except perhaps for health care). She’s less seasoned in foreign policy, although I doubt anyone on either side of the aisle would question that she would be steadfast on America’s behalf in dealing with Russia, China, and other adversaries or quasi-allies such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia. That said, Ms. Warren doesn’t necessarily possess – to put it delicately – a compromising and conciliatory nature. One can surmise that as president she might have difficulty working with business interests. One can fairly question whether a Warren Administration would make any progress on domestic issues if Republicans maintain control of the Senate and KY Sen. Mitch McConnell continues as the Senate Majority Leader; every issue will become a brawl.
- To her credit, Sen. Warren is – subject to the self-inflicted ethnic gaffe discussed below – not campaigning as an identity candidate; she certainly supports women’s rights but her heart seems more focused on economic issues. She is likewise not a shiny new toy in Democratic politics, another plus.
- Ms. Warren is overtly progressive, to me a drawback. In addition to her attacks on business, she has reportedly said that she is “in all the way” on the Green New Deal, a bugaboo for many voters (although she’s apparently been less forthright about her approach to Medicare for All). As I have noted before, Democrats need the center to win; swing voters’ concerns about the President seem centered upon his demeanor, his veracity, his biases, and his disregard for our institutions, and much less on his substantive policies. Mr. Trump’s most favorable substantive advantage at this point is the apparent strength of the economy. Ms. Warren is extremely vulnerable to being painted a “Socialist” by Mr. Trump and the conservative media – which, whether or not warranted, could persuade some centrists that she is scarier than Mr. Trump.
I indicated above that President Trump might consider Sen. Warren his most favorable matchup; I offer such because of intangibles. While beloved by progressives and despite her good intentions, she doesn’t, at least in my view, present a warm image; she seems too much the nagging schoolmarm (or, to us veterans of old time Catholic education, the intimidating nun) who scolded you (and perhaps rapped your knuckles) for not paying attention in class. The Senator’s unforced missteps regarding her Native American ancestry have invited the President’s ridicule, and his mocking references to “Pocahontas” – combined with his inflammatory claims about “Socialism” — will, I suggest, resonate among some of the swing voters that will decide the election. I predict that in any debate between Mr. Trump and Ms. Warren, policy wonks will judge her the substantive winner on every question, but for a pivotal segment of our electorate, the contest will evoke the age-old classroom drama – the President as the irreverent class clown, Ms. Warren as the strict grade school teacher – that Mr. Trump will win handily.
The Democratic Party has already run one Hillary Clinton; I would submit that if they nominate Sen. Warren, they may well, despite her objective qualifications, be in effect doing so again.