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Opinion Why the ‘Elizabeth Warren for president’ chatter will continue

Senator Elizabeth Warren’s dramatic stand against the provision in the budget deal weakening Wall Street reform has drawn attention to her rising clout as a kind of spokesperson for the left wing of the Democratic Party — which, unsurprisingly, has renewed the chatter about whether she’ll run for president.

Warren has denied countless times that she is running. But she continues to cast that denial in the present tense — saying, “I am not running,” as opposed to ruling out any run in the future.

As absurd and trivial as that distinction may seem, one group of people is paying very close attention to it: The progressives running the “draft Warren for president” campaign. A spokesman for one of the groups intimately involved in the “draft Warren” effort tells me that those pushing for a Warren run are taking her continued use of the present tense as a reason to believe she has not actually ruled one out — and as a reason to continue their efforts, which she could close down right now if she so chose.

In a Senate floor speech, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) urged House Democrats not to support a bill to fund the government through September unless a provision reversing a rule created by the sweeping "Dodd-Frank" financial regulation law was removed. (Video: senelizabethwarren/YouTube)

The latest such denial from Warren came in an interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep. In it, Warren stated four times that “I’m not running for president.” When asked whether that meant she would “never” run, Warren said: “I am not running for president. You want me to put an exclamation point at the end?”

Well, maybe, but those running the “draft Warren” effort think there is something she could do that would promptly end this chatter — with or without an exclamation point — and that she has not availed herself of it.

“She’s been very consistent in speaking in the present tense,” Neil Sroka, a spokesman for Democracy For America, which is involved in the “draft Warren” effort, tells me. “The way this speculation will end is if she says, ‘I am not running and I will not run.’ That would end the draft effort.”

“We’re trying to make it very clear that this is an indication to us that the door is still open,” Sroka continued. “Speaking in the present tense certainly ensures that the grassroots folks are going to continue running the draft campaign. I would think she knows that. And we want her to know that.”

For my part, I don’t believe Warren has any intention to run, though I wouldn’t entirely rule out the possibility that she might change her mind under certain circumstances, most particularly if Hillary Clinton were to somehow end up not running. That said, the focus on Warren’s grammar by the “draft Warren” contingent, which also prominently includes, represents more than mere wishful thinking: It goes to the heart of what this dance is really all about.

By all indications, progressive groups genuinely believe there is at least a chance of coaxing Warren into the race under certain circumstances. However, whether or not that ultimately happens, they have an interest in keeping up this push for another reason: Anything that boosts Warren’s visibility might also boost the potential power and influence that Warren may be able to exert within Congress — and over the Democratic Party in general — as their chosen vehicle for progressive policy ideas. That might boost the groups’ own influence over the debate.

By this reasoning, of course, lefty groups might have an obvious motive for reading subtleties into Warren’s grammar choices that may or may not be there. At the same time, though, the groups’ approach to this might also give Warren herself a reasonable enough motive for leaving things grammatically ambiguous, if that is indeed what she is doing.

After all, keeping alive the “draft Warren” effort — which its proponents themselves say will keep going until she rules out a future run — probably does enhance her stature and clout as the standard bearer of the “tough on Wall Street” wing of the party. That, in turn, could maximize her influence over policy debates and the party’s overall direction — including that adopted by the eventual Democratic nominee. What’s the harm, she may think, in keeping alive the chatter?

As I said, I don’t believe Warren has any intention to run, and I don’t have any particular insights into her thinking on this. But it’s worth noting that, from the point of view of those most invested in a Warren run, she has not taken the simple step that would shut down their efforts. And she has an understandable reason for not doing so.