Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is playing the long game to get exactly what she wants out of presidential politics — specifically, to make economic populism go mainstream. And so far, it's working out pretty great.
The liberal darling brushed off recruiting attempts to get her to run for president. Since then, she's declined to endorse anyone in the race, and her absence was a notable one Monday at an energetic Capitol Hill event at which 13 female Democratic senators endorsed Hillary Clinton.
Warren has tried her best to float above the fray of the presidential race altogether, except to cryptically say it's not time to talk about endorsements or that she'll have to wait and see what the candidates do before she makes a move.
But in staying out of the 2016 spotlight, Warren's presence (and popularity among the Democratic base) are paradoxically looming even larger over the Democratic primary. That arms-length strategy has helped Warren achieve what might not have been possible if she had actually jumped into the race herself: making the Democratic Party's economic platform sound more and more like her own.
"If you close your eyes, you might think Elizabeth Warren is talking," wrote CNN Money's Tami Luhby after Clinton launched her campaign with a video in April. The Fix observed much the same, calling the announcement — complete with Clinton's "deck is stacked" rhetoric subbed in for Warren's "system is rigged" — very Warren-esque.
The Washington Post's Anne Gearan and Mike DeBonis list Warren and Clinton's dual priorities: A more level income scale? Check. A higher minimum wage? Check. Tougher rules and enforcement for Wall Street? Check. (However, Gearan and DeBonis note a significant split between the two is about what to do with those banks; Warren has advocated a breakup of big banks, Clinton has not specifically said as much.)
Clinton's move to the left is made all the more remarkable considering in 2008 presidential candidate Clinton was decidedly more centrist. She championed a balanced budget amendment and, as mentioned above, was a more Wall Street-friendly Democrat.
The 2016 Clinton says Wall Street deserves scrutiny — in a July speech she promised to criminally prosecute the Wall Street chief executives who had a role in the 2008 financial crisis — and in an about-face, she opposes a 12-nation trade deal with Pacific nations that she helped champion as secretary of state. She kept pace with her more liberal challengers in recent Democratic debates about how much they'd raise taxes on the wealthy.
Now, "[t]wo months before the Iowa caucuses, [Clinton] differs from Warren mostly by degree," write Gearan and DeBonis.
Which means Warren has successfully taken advantage of a political and economic climate conducive to her ideas and amped the base up so much that candidates in the Democratic nominating contest have no choice but to mirror her proposals. As much as Sen. Bernie Sanders might have drawn Clinton to the left by surging in the polls early on, Warren deserves plenty of credit for laying the foundation for that to happen. Her influence was clear even before Sanders caught on.
And she's done all this without having to engage any major political muscle in the 2016 race. In fact, by not aligning with either candidate and keeping herself a free agent, she did more than she could have by picking sides.