Many quick-to-judge pundits declared that her hopes of a successful candidacy for the Democratic nomination in 2020 took a serious blow. “She shouldn’t exactly terrify her rivals just yet,” declared Ross Douthat in the New York Times, in a typical example. No good, just about everyone declared, will come of wrestling with Trump in the gutter of insults and bad faith.
Au contraire. Democrats would be playing straight into Trump’s (tiny) hands if they allow this controversy to define Warren. Warren remains a formidable political presence. She has a preternatural understanding of the pocketbook politics of most Americans. Unlike Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), it’s hard to dismiss the grandma from Oklahoma as a radical — heck, she was a Republican till the mid-1990s. But most important: Warren is one of the few Democrats who consistently calls Trump out on his lies in a way that catches the public’s attention and can leave him on the defensive in 2020.
Trump claims to speak for the blue-collar man and woman. That’s where Warren comes from. Trump was a millionaire by age 8, courtesy of his father’s real estate fortune and tax dodges. Warren grew up in a working-class family in Oklahoma that experienced tough times. Trump’s so out of touch with how the rest of us live, his idea of hard times is a made-up story about how his dad lent him $1 million that he — Donald — had to reimburse – with interest. (It was actually at least $60.7 million, and Trump didn’t pay back much at all.)
Warren came to public attention when she began studying bankruptcy. Instead of finding — as she expected — a bunch of loose-living people manipulating the system, she discovered a nation of people living on the edge, one medical crisis or divorce or lost job from the financial abyss. Trump lived large even as his businesses declared bankruptcy multiple times. Warren created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which protects people — or did, until Trump and Mick Mulvaney came along — from the shenanigans of the financial services industry. Trump ripped off his fans via schemes such as the fraudulent Trump University, where he claimed he would share the secrets of his business acumen but instead pocketed the money of his hard-luck acolytes.
Trump, who claimed he would “drain the swamp” spends his time in office looking out for the interests of big business, and he has put in place numerous appointees who have rolled back regulations ranging from environmental protections to net neutrality. Many come from the private sector and act like that’s who they are still working for. Warren debuted legislation taking on what’s known as legalized corruption: banning the revolving door, demanding presidential candidates make their tax returns public and expanding the definition of lobbying. She has also introduced a plan to beef up corporate accountability, reduce the incentives for stock buybacks, make it harder for corporations to spend money on political speech and give workers more of a voice in management.
No surprise, Warren also gets under the skin of the congressional Republican leadership, who can be baited into saying things they should not about her. The most famous example will forever go to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who shut down Warren on the floor of the Senate during a debate on the nomination of Jeff Sessions to serve as attorney general. “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” This turned Warren into a heroine of the female resistance to Trump.
Warren, like all of us, is not perfect. Her office is famously guarded, with the press and outsiders alike, something that could go a long way toward explaining this week’s fiasco. She didn’t do enough outreach with the indigenous community. Talking all this over with advisers outside her tight inner circle probably would have helped, too — I find it hard to believe anyone not on her payroll or dependent on her good will would have told her it was a good idea to release this information so close to the midterms and without talking first to the Cherokee Nation. But it’s hard not to suspect her would-be primary rivals are enjoying the show and keeping it going for their own ends. The Wall Street wing of the Democratic Party is no fan of Warren. Others support different potential candidates in 2020. Why move in to protect a perceived front-runner when you’d rather replace her?
Here’s the truth of the matter: When you throw punches, sometimes you leave yourself open to counterpunches. It’s the ability to get up again and fight the good fight that matters. Warren, unlike many Democrats who tend to be so cautious voters dismiss them as wimps, possesses that ability. It’s a mistake to count her out. Trump gives nasty nicknames to people who threaten him, who he believes can do him real damage. He calls Warren “Pocahontas” because he wants to dismiss her as a fraud and continue his flimflam act. Democrats shouldn’t help him.