written by Valerie Morales
In the humid months of summer, amid high temps and tangy cherry blossoms, Elizabeth Warren was beloved by massive crowds that she whipped into a frenzy. What remained after she sermonized on climate control and income inequality and student loans (reproductive health, drug addiction, obstruction of justice, homelessness got a shout out too) was nectar in the air.
But time and seasonal change does strange things; often, seeping in through the window glass are colder days, sallow trees, gloominess, and a new Elizabeth Warren reality. April isn’t the cruelest month after all.
Elizabeth Warren’s message has lost its je ne sais quoi. Like week old bread in the pantry, it is stale. Her poll numbers are tepid. The why is as complicated as her once upon a time lead. Physics. What goes up must come down. Fatigue. And perhaps as CNBC’s Jim Cramer alluded to, Elizabeth Warren wrote a check she just cannot cash. Wealthy voters who anchor many blue states, particularly California, detest everything Elizabeth Warren stands for. Silicon Valley, in response, is hosting a lot of fundraisers for Pete Buttigieg, the man despised by progressives for his moderation and who has taken Elizabeth Warren’s frontrunner place.
Cramer summed Warren up bluntly. “She’s scared people and that’s why I think people are flocking to other candidates.”
As a progressive, Warren wonderfully self-identifies with the middle class but her synchronicity hasn’t adequately addressed anxiety. Middle class voters are in a tizzy, worried about losing their private insurance (and preferred doctors) if Medicare for All is a go. It was a topic of conversation at a Xmas tree party I attended where liberals and their spiked eggnog vexed about being called a socialist. Boys II Men’s crooning blared Silent Night up and down the hallways while a debate ensued. Most liked the idea of insurance for all but weren’t willing to give up their privileges for it.
The strength of the progressive message rings an amen bell for the disaffected Democrat, the working class, the struggling, the mad at big business and banking. By championing those who are struggling Elizabeth Warren gets to share her origin story. An Oklahoma childhood. A sick father. A mother who had to go to work. In other words, class struggle. Later, her bankruptcy background gave her agency with women whose husbands leave them with a bunch of unpaid bills. She was a Republican then and discovered it was not laziness but a loss of income that changed the financial lives of single mothers. Elizabeth Warren’s empathy for them is deep
There is a problem, however, with the Warren math, despite the validity of her message, as talked about at the Xmas party I attended. Warren cautiously walks a tightrope, afraid to alienate the Bernie Sanders voter or progressives in general. Warren doesn’t seem bothered that she is a copy of Sanders and not the original. In the aggregate, she is either the light or the shadow. Lately, she is the tumult. After she vociferously attacked the wealthy, her numbers dropped like a bag of wet rocks. As Jim Cramer mentioned, she alienated a group of people who were on her side.
By weaponizing financial achievement and conflating wealth (and the pursuit of it) with corruption Warren has erased a large voting bloc. Corruption isn’t driven by capital or markets but by greed. Greedy people exist in all financial classes. By prosecuting wealth, she is abandoning a segment of her own party and driving them to other candidates. Or, challenging them to stay at home. It’s counterproductive and politically absurd. Despite the rhetoric, the Democratic Party is not a party of progressives only. Otherwise, Pete Buttigieg wouldn’t be the flavor of the month.
Dems learned a hard lesson in 2016 when black people in Flint and Detroit and Saginaw and Lansing stayed home. The state of Michigan turned Republican. Four years later, if Wall Street Democrats and those entrenched in the financial sector like bankers, and those who aspire to be bankers and millionaires, if they stay home, and if gay men who think Pete Buttigieg is being attacked by progressive bullies do not vote, it will be catastrophic.
In November of 2020, the Dems need a coterie of voters: the have everythings, the have nothings, and the have a little. Earned wealth or inherited wealth, it doesn’t matter. Voters can’t feel pathologized and abandoned. Warren’s contempt for high income Americans ruins her purist ideology.
In Iowa and New Hampshire, Elizabeth Warren is in 4th place. That she is trailing Pete Buttigieg is reprehensible for progressives and a little shocking for everyone else until you realize the hunger for what Buttigieg represents: white, male, moderate. Buttigieg has turned Warren into a rental candidate.
The rationalization that Buttigieg is a man and we’re in love with presidents who have penises applies but there’s more. Buttigieg is also a traditional Democrat who registers as authentic. Mainstream Democrats are willing to overlook his youth, lack of national experience, and sexual orientation. His plainness is an intractable contrast to Warren’s convictions. While she seems decadently pissed at the structures that shape American life, Mayor Pete comes across as folksy, mandarin, and Midwestern. Those he has converted believe he can win tough constituencies like the wealthy independent and the moderate liberal, both of whom are stung by the progressive agenda of socialized medicine.
Warren is attacking Buttigieg mercilessly and viciously, as she is trying to hang on. Buttigieg’s ascendancy is sobering for the left and for Warren too, who has embraced a progressive or die mantra without really doing the research on the numbers. Are there more progressives in the Democratic Party than traditional Dems? No.
Transactionally, progressives demand purity. But dying on a hill is what happens when you have a legitimacy test to determine which voters are worthy allies. It’s not that far removed from Southern literacy tests, this progressive line in the sand of you’re with us or…bye.
Warren is a good soldier in the fight, not a lieutenant but a skilled field commander. Her orgiastic attack on the institutions that sustain wealth and her dexterous disdain for capitalistic benefits, while they ignore the pattern of American history, fall in line with a progressive agenda. Its about changing the right now.
I know a person of color who voted for Donald Trump and the reason wasn’t that dramatic. He was not insulted by Trump’s misogyny, immorality, classlessness, nor average intelligence. Donald Trump reminded him of the American dream, a rich man who is aspirational for a working class man, a hustler. That was the hook for him, the big sell, a man who works as a cashier at a grocery store. In Trump, he saw what he wanted but perhaps could never have. It gave him optimism about possibilities and I suppose it exposed he wasn’t that cynical about American life.
I mention him because he is out there, in cities and towns, Democrats who aren’t disgusted by Trump but want to be him. Regardless if the Trump backstory is saturated in a lie, it creates a halo around him that Elizabeth Warren wants to take away, that rich people don’t matter, except as villains. It is simply not true. Even in 2019, the rich and their hedonistic achievements are fetishized and dreamed about.
That’s what progressives like Elizabeth Warren ignore. The hustle for wealth is real. And it’s aspirational.
Mike Tyson famously said everyone has a plan until they get hit in the mouth. Now that Pete Buttigieg has surged, now what? Elizabeth Warren, now what? Tread water?
The process of becoming president insists that you become a chameleon. It’s the one thing Elizabeth Warren cannot be. She can be 1A progressive to Bernie Sanders. She can be not Hillary. She can be a boil on the butt of Donald Trump. She can cherry pick her kind of Democrat. But she cannot change herself this late in the game. She is stuck with her message, with those she ostracizes, and those she adores. For better, or worse.