Despite her slip in recent polls, I still support Elizabeth Warren for president. She has, I believe, a unique combination of qualities, all of which were on display in the Nevada debate earlier this week and likely rebooted her campaign. Among them are an empathetic and expressive heart, intelligence, the gift of storytelling, bold ideas that reach beyond the prevailing wisdom, and a modest background. More than anyone else in the field, she has a conversational and analytical ability to organically center and interconnect race, gender, sexuality and class within a wider narrative.
She also possesses feminist sensibilities and the makings of a soaring eloquence, which our great presidents — Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Obama — had in buckets. Each used this gift in their own time to inspire tens of millions burdened by the weight of their circumstances and searching desperately for a road to a better future. Finally, she has a leg up over her rivals — and this is crucial — in her ability to unite the Democratic Party and the larger electorate of independents, moderates, liberals, progressives, and the left nationally and across the Midwest.
I like Bernie. A lot in fact. And in the debate this week he acquitted himself, as he consistently does, quite well. He more than anyone else has moved the Democratic Party and the national conversation in a progressive direction, while lending an incisive voice to working class issues and activating an impressive and powerful movement of supporters. Young people, in the first place, feel a kinship to his policies, honesty, and authenticity. In their world, he tells it like it is. He gives them hope that their present won’t be their future. Is it any wonder why they so enthusiastically identify with his campaign? He also has popularized and put flesh to the bone of democratic socialism, while rightly distancing himself from socialism’s very flawed 20th century iteration. And, right now, he is the clear front runner in the contest to win the Democratic Party nomination.
But, to be candid, as much as I like Bernie’s message, and doggedness over a lifetime, I worry that he is unelectable, that he has a ceiling that will leave him short election night, if not in the popular vote, then in the electoral college against the most dangerous demagogue in the country’s history. Bernie’s political pedigree and some of his positions, I fear, can be easily and negatively caricatured by Trump and his far-flung propaganda machine and enough of them will stick to allow Trump to land once again back in the White House and then at ramped up speed further eviscerate democracy and consolidate his version of right-wing, white nationalist rule long into the future.
Rumor has it that Trump and his team would like to run against Bernie. And their reasoning is clear enough: Trump believes Bernie can be easily slimed and turned into something he isn’t and, in effect, made unpalatable to many independents, moderate voters, regular Democrats, and women in the suburbs. Indeed, if Bernie is the nominee, the American people will be inundated by a sustained and savage avalanche of fear-mongering, lies, distortions, and red-baiting the likes of which we haven’t seen since the early days of the Cold War when Communists were turned into an “enemy within.” And, I’m not confident that enough American people will resist this onslaught.
Furthermore, Bernie’s path to victory in November rests on particular constituencies, including young people, new voters, people of color, and high school educated white workers, turning out in record numbers. That may well happen, but I don’t believe anyone can answer that question with any authority.
Of course, Warren will be slimed too, if she ends up the nominee, and much the same way that Bernie would even though she isn’t a socialist. What is more she will face the extra hurdles that sexism puts in her way. But, by the same token, she can more easily deflect this slime as well as reach out to social constituencies that aren’t so keen on Bernie. Then there’s her appeal to women, who are an increasingly powerful voting constituency that could make the difference as they did in the midterm elections two years ago.
Young and disaffected voters would be disappointed if Bernie doesn’t win the nomination, But Warren more than anyone else in the field could, albeit with Bernie’s help, earn their respect and maximize their turnout. She also can enthuse other parts of the democratic base. None of the moderates in the race have this potential. Said differently, Warren, and only Warren, has what it takes to bring together a multi-racial coalition of activists and voters on the scale necessary to beat Trump. It will look like the Obama elections coalitions of 2008 and 2012, but hopefully be broader and deeper.
That’s my take on what I know is a contentious issue. Bernie’s supporters will surely differ. They will argue that I underestimate the shift in popular thinking regarding socialism, the popularity of his positions, and the breadth and depth of his support, including from some of Trump’s working-class supporters in the battleground states.
But I’m not convinced that the possibility of realigning politics in general and class politics in particular pivots on Sanders’ election and the greatest danger is to fritter it away. A Warren presidency, even though she doesn’t have Bernie’s socialist pedigree and long history in class politics, does have other qualities and experience that will make her a great president, coalition builder, and change maker. And, more to the point, her chances of winning in November are better than Bernie’s. And nothing matters more than that.