(Tom Toles/The Washington Post)

I’m David Von Drehle, and I want to welcome you, friends, to Round 33 of the Power Rankings, where Sen. Elizabeth Warren takes a turn as America’s history teacher and comes through with surprisingly high marks. I say “surprising” because knowledge of actual history is no longer a requirement for the nation’s highest office, if ever it was. Just ask Frederick Douglass.

The Commentary

In a nighttime speech at New York’s Washington Square last week, Warren reached back to Frances Perkins and the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire as examples of successful change agents in American politics. A sudden blaze in a high-rise garment factory killed 146 people in plain view of a crowd on the streets near the square. One of the witnesses was Perkins, a politically gifted reformer who seized on the tragedy to galvanize a movement and her own historic career as America’s first female Cabinet secretary.

In New York lore, the Triangle fire is a moment that the shocked city could never forget nor fail to atone for. But when I researched the event for a book, I found that the city was well on its way to forgetting within just a few weeks of the fire. Then the political insiders who ran the city realized that a growing bloc of voters would reward them for taking the side of working people, and Perkins, among others, was there to show them how.

So Warren had it about right when she said Perkins “worked the political system relentlessly from the inside while a sustained movement applied pressure from the outside.” That recipe (plus a Great Depression — ugh!) ultimately produced a New Deal from the ashes of the Triangle factory. Will it produce a Warren presidency? Stay tuned.

Elsewhere in the still-crowded field, Joe Biden’s steady national poll numbers might be masking vulnerabilities in the early-voting states. Bernie Sanders can’t have been helped by ex-president Jimmy Carter’s observation that 80 might be too old for a president. Kamala D. Harris is surely due one more look thanks to a résumé that’s stronger than her campaign performance thus far. And, of course, if all Warren’s Perkins-inspired plans for reform prove to situate her too far to the left for Democratic voters’ liking, well, there’s always Amy Klobuchar.

— David Von Drehle

The Ranking

Position Challenger Change Over Last Ranking
1. Elizabeth Warren
2. Joe Biden
3. Bernie Sanders
4. Kamala D. Harris
5. Pete Buttigieg
6. Cory Booker
7. Amy Klobuchar
8. Beto O’Rourke
9. Andrew Yang
10. Julián Castro
11. Michael Bennet
12. (TIE) Tim Ryan DOWN 1
12. (TIE) Tom Steyer DOWN 1
14. (TIE) Steve Bullock
14. (TIE) Marianne Williamson RETURNS TO RANKING

Last week’s ranking: Round 32 | The winner of the debate? Nobody.

From the Annotations

He’s managed to firmly insert himself into the news cycle by way of SNL and is ahead of Harris in her home state in a poll. (Also, I’m being harassed by YangGangers online. Strong BernieBro energy there).

Christine Emba, on Andrew Yang

She’s “f---ing moving to Iowa,” as she confided to a fellow senator the other day, and she doesn’t have much choice. Anything other than a top-four finish in the first caucuses could finish her off even before the campaign gets to her home state of California.

Charles Lane, on Kamala D. Harris

Don’t forget to click on the chart’s yellow highlighted text to see the rest of the Ranking Committee’s annotations. Agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts in the comments.

We’ll see you for the next ranking. Until then, ask yourself: What Would Frances Perkins Do? Bracelets coming to the Power Rankings merch store soon.

Read more on 2020:

Jennifer Rubin: Electability becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy

Greg Sargent: Biden allies suggest Warren is unelectable. What’s their argument for Biden?

David Byler: Democrats can wish for a repeat of 2008 all they want. It’s not going to happen.

Henry Olsen: Trump’s effort to court Hispanic voters isn’t as crazy as it sounds