In a recent CNN presidential poll, Massachusetts U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren came in third among Democratic-leaning voters, trailing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden. As the first female senator from Massachusetts, and credited with the establishment of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, she is a candidate capable of rousing the liberal base. Although Senator Warren has adamantly denied any intention to run, party activists and pundits alike have been voicing support for her candidacy—especially in the case that Clinton does not run. Interestingly, the majority of the support does not seem to be coming from Warren aides, or even from the Massachusetts Democratic Party. Rather, those most vocal in their support are national party members: the same people responsible for Warren’s Senate victory in 2012. National party progressives are attracted to her common-sense approach and devotion to public policy, her middle-class background, and her populist, almost Occupy Wall Street-like rhetoric. However, it is precisely these attributes that make her candidacy a poor choice for the Democratic Party—who should be encouraging her to stay in the Senate where she will be far more helpful than in the White House.
According to Warren’s website, she “came up the hard way…out of a hard-working middle class family in an America that created opportunities for kids like me,” and has thus “make her life’s work fighting for middle class families.” Named by the National Law Journal as one of the most influential lawyers of the decade, she served as Chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) after the 2008 financial crisis, in addition to her aforementioned work on the CFPB. Even given these credentials, however, few believe she can actually win the Democratic nomination, not to mention the White House. She is viewed as so anti-business that it’s unlikely she will be able to amass the war chest necessary for a presidential bid, and will be an easy target for Republicans looking to capitalize upon President Obama’s waning support and the somewhat stagnant economy.
In fact, a Warren candidacy will only prove detrimental to the party. If she were to challenge the current favorite, Hillary Clinton, from the left she will only force Clinton—generally viewed to be more business-friendly than Warren—to the left in the primaries and hurt her in the general election. Arguably more important, however, is the much more productive role Warren could play in Congress. The struggles of the Obama Administration since losing the House in the 2010 midterm elections have been an example of how without a cooperative Congress, a president’s domestic agenda can matter very little. A liberal Democrat who has the knowledge and commitment to economic legislation could be exactly what the party needs. Additionally, more time in the Senate will endow Senator Warren with the necessary skills for a future successful campaign and presidency. Although the senior senator from Massachusetts, she is still in her first year of public office ever. She may possess more administrative experience from her time heading the CFPB and work with TARP than President Obama did from his one term as U.S. Senator, without more experience governing she could be doomed to make the same mistakes President Obama did in his first term. Obama himself admits his focus on policy rather than message hurt the efficacy of his agenda, as well as his relative inexperience with the legislative process. Warren’s technical experience and focus on sound public policy will serve her and the party far better in Congress than in the White House.
In fact, party activists pushing Warren to run is indicative of a much more entrenched flaw in national party strategy. Democrats have long had an issue turning out for midterm elections. Midterm elections tend to attract older, white voters who pay closest attention to the political process and are likely to vote in elections in almost every level of government. These days, this demographic reality means Republicans will do better. Democratic focus on the presidency may be beneficial to party morale and while control of the White House is no small feat, the past three years have been a brutal reminder of how ineffective the executive office can be given a hostile Congress. While Republicans are undergoing a crisis of identity on the national stage, their success on the state level means their grip on domestic policy remains strong. For Democrats to remain viable, party insiders must encourage politicians like Senator Warren to remain in Congress, recruit more candidates like her to generate interest and turnout in midterm elections, and rally behind a presidential candidate moderate enough to extend Democratic control of the White House for another eight years.
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