Warren Wades In

Where Things Stand

With Elizabeth Warren’s entry into the race, here’s what the official Democratic field looks like (in order of entry):

-      John Delaney has been in for a long while now.

-      Richard Ojeda– remember him? Radio silence since his November 12 announcement.

-      Julian Castro officially announced on Saturday, January 12.

-      Elizabeth Warren– who has only formed an exploratory committee but essentially announced her candidacy on New Year’s Eve.

- Tulsi Gabbard officially announced a run for president on Sunday, January 13.

The field as it stands already offers a wide variety of ideological viewpoints – with the West Virginian Ojeda on the right to the uber-progressive Warren on the left (and Delaney right in the middle). Look for the diversity of thought (and identity) to only increase as the weeks go by.

 Who’s up next?

-      A media blitz by Kamala Harris this week is likely a signal that she’s set to announce sometime soon.

-      Those close to Joe Biden say he’s nearing a decision– and it’s a safe bet that he’ll throw his hat in the ring.

Keep an eye on …

-      Beto O’Rourke is leaning toward running, per Politico. He’s planning a solo road trip – notably of non-early states– but won’t decide whether or not to run until February. Don’t hold your breath; he can wait as long as he likes (and it’s probably to his advantage to do so).

-      Terry McAuliffe and Sherrod Brown are expected to make a decision in the next few months.

-      Where’s Bernie Sanders? He’s been off the radar lately – but he’s in the same boat as Beto. The media continues to consider him a front-runner without even entering the race, so no need to get his hands dirty too early.

On Elizabeth Warren

The 2020 starting gun has officially fired – and first out the gate is the junior senator from Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren.

In the spirit of candor, I’ll admit that for the past few years, I’ve been skeptical of Warren. Most of this, I’m realizing, was borne out of ignorance and an adherence to cheap media narratives. I feared that she was too far left and too firebrand to be an appealing candidate. I worried about vague notions of “likability” and “electability” – whatever that even means in today’s political environment. In short, I just didn’t know everything about her.

Because I’m approaching the primary with an open mind, I decided to give Warren the fair shot I had never given her – and I was beyond impressed.

I started with her opening video, giving the candidate a chance to tell her story unfiltered. I liked what I heard: a story about encroaching corruption corroding America’s economic promise; a brilliant woman whose Oklahoma-to-Harvard story reflects the best of the American Dream; a crusading leader who has never failed to stand up for the little guy.

And the more I read about her background, the more impressed I became. She rarely gets the recognition she deserves for being a true policy intellectual (a term I’m borrowing from one of my favorite Times columnists, Paul Krugman), but her years of economic research and work after the financial crisis deserves praise from the left. Her bona fides remind me of Jed Bartlet from The West Wing– the economist-turned-president who always seemed to be the smartest in the room.

Her message of economic populism and dismantling a corrupt system is certainly resonant in the era of Donald Trump. She seems to offer progressives a similar but more reasonable alternative to Bernie Sanders, whose far left and purist crusade to pull Democratic politics toward a full embrace of socialism.

But is her economic message full enough to boost her to the presidency? We hear all the time that it’s the economy, stupid, but it’s impossible to argue that Bush, Obama and Trump won on just the economy alone. Positions on health care, national security, and American identity were also woven into their successful messaging – presenting a more cohesive story of our country’s past and vision for our country’s future.

The biggest challenge for Warren’s candidacy – and what I’m interested in hearing more from her on –  will be finding a way integrating these elements into her sales pitch. She isn’t really considered a leader on health care, immigration, foreign policy, or a number of others that will also dominate the primary debate. Right now, she’s drawing everything – including America’s activity abroad– back to us versus the elites. And while she’s clearly cornered the market for smart economic populism, I wonder if attacking “the deeper America drift toward oligarchy”will be enough to swing voters in a crowded field.

Or, maybe she’s betting that dominating a single (and arguably the most important) issue is the best way to stand out.

Either way, I’m disappointed to see so much of the early discussion around Warren’s candidate is focused on her vague, irrelevant concepts like likeability, relatability, and electability. For smarter thoughts on this than I can give, check out the New York TimesDaily Beastand The Atlantic (and The Atlantic again).

The bottom line is: ignore the artificially low initial approval ratings and the Twitter chatter about every little thing. A lot of the criticism is steeped in a broader problem of a heavily-gendered concept of the ideal presidential candidate – something very real that Warren, though no fault of her own, is going to have to overcome. But she’ll do it not by going to war with Washington pundits or Twitter trolls, but by talking to voters in the early states and telling her story.

And right now, she’s got the message, the money, and infrastructure to be the real deal.

The biggest lesson I learned from Warren’s entry into the race is this: the Democratic bench is a lot stronger than it is given credit for, and there are going to be a lot of gems we find through this cycle. Even though you may like some candidates more than others, every candidate has a story to tell – so hear them all out, give each a shot, and don’t discount anyone. 


On My Mind

It’s no secret that I’m a die-hard O’Malley fan. He’s an unabashed liberal but doesn’t play the race to the left like progressives do. I think his policy stances are dead on and he has the experience to back it up. Best of all, he often wraps his ideas in the language of Catholic social teaching – giving his messages a spiritual thrust we haven’t seen since Bobby Kennedy. And I’m not shy about my love for Bobby Kennedy.

That’s why I was disappointed to read that O’Malley’s bowing out of the 2020 race– but heartened to see him throw his support behind Beto O’Rourke. While he hasn’t entered the race yet, it’s easy to see Beto as – at least in part – a reflection of O’Malley at his best. He focuses on the dignity of work, interracial understanding, compassion for the less fortunate, and other liberal values reminiscent of that fateful 1968 presidential campaign.

And it doesn’t hurt that Beto’s full name is Robert Francis.

Max Magid