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Elizabeth Warren’s ideals may appeal to left-leaning Democrats, but it’ll make her battle with Trump much harder

Massachusetts senator made announcement in New Year’s Eve email

Andrew Buncombe
Monday 31 December 2018 21:05
Elizabeth Warren takes major step towards running for president in 2020

Elizabeth Warren knows a thing about hard work. Married at 19, pregnant shortly afterwards, she raised a child while attending law school.

She then had a second child, passed the bar, and soon divorced. For a while she was a single parent, a story she likes to recount. “A turn here, a turn there, and my life might have been very different, too,” the Massachusetts senator wrote in A Fighting Chance, a 2014 memoir she published while considering a 2016 presidential run.

That time she decided against it. This time it appears Warren is in – bidding to become the US’s first female president.

In a statement emailed to supporters, the 69-year-old former law professor and treasury advisor to Barack Obama, announced she had formed an exploratory committee, the first formal step in any White House bid, and became the first big name Democrat to do so. “I’ve spent my career getting to the bottom of why America’s promise works for some families, but others, who work just as hard, slip through the cracks into disaster,” she said.

To win, Warren is going to need all her wits and capacity for hard work. Even then, she’ll need a bucket load of luck.

As an academic and a campaigner for consumer protection, including attacking big banks for the 2008 collapse that led to eight million Americans losing their jobs and saw four million homes foreclosed, Warren has been passionate and brave.

Earlier this year, she opposed a measure that eased bank regulations imposed in the aftermath of the crisis. “People in this building may forget the devastating impact of the financial crisis 10 years ago,” she said. “But the American people have not forgotten.”

A year earlier, she made headlines, and was gifted a handy campaign slogan, when she refused to stop a speech opposing Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Jeff Sessions. “Sen Warren was giving a lengthy speech,” said Republican senate leader Mitch McConnell, issuing an official rebuke. “[She was warned to stop], but she persisted.”

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But the same reasons Warren is loved by many left-leaning Democrats will likely make her run very difficult. Four years ago, Bernie Sanders and the progressive wing represented by Warren were marginalised by the party, which wrapped its arms around the centrism of Hillary Clinton. Now, because of the performance of Sanders and Warren – and Clinton’s failure – progressive ideas are in the ascendency, as evidenced by the victories of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar, and the close run of Stacey Abrams.

In a field that may contain as many as two dozen candidates, and almost certainly containing the likes of Beto O’Rourke and Kamala Harris, Warren will not be the only one occupying the progressive lane.

Nor will she be an entirely fresh face. Yet, if Warren seeks instead to assume the “experience and wisdom” slot, she may find it already occupied either by Sanders or Joe Biden. Neither man has said if they are running and both will face questions about their age – Biden is 76 and Sanders is 77. But in a December poll of voters in Iowa, which holds its primary 13 months from now, Warren was beaten into fourth place, by Biden (32 points), Sanders (19) points and O’Rourke (11). She polled eight, with Kamala Harris on five and Corey Booker of New Jersey on four.

Is it that Warren will “slip between the cracks” of too many stronger brands?

While nobody doubts Warren’s intelligence or decency, there are questions about her political acumen. Trump has said he would love to run against her.

“I hope that she is running. I do not think she’ll be difficult at all,” he said earlier this year.

Trump often says things that are not true, but this time he was surely telling the truth. The president had mocked Warren in racist tones ever since she claimed to have Native American ancestry and has played this to his advantage.

He offered to pay $1m to charity if she underwent a test, and in a move that backfired hugely, she went ahead and did so. The results showed she likely had some Native ancestry, but Trump seized on a report that claimed, wrongly, it may have been as little 1/1024.

His supporters ate all that up, while Warren angered some indigenous people who said her decision to undergo DNA testing represented a “settler-colonial racial understanding” of what it is was be Native American. Trump conveniently forgot his promise to donate to charity.

The lack of political nous was underscored by the manner and timing of her declaration. One can understand Warren wanting to get a jump on others in the field, but if she truly believed in herself, would she have made her announcement in an email, the morning of New Year’s Eve?

One hopes Warren does not start 2019 with a hangover. She has a lot to do.

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