Warren did not have a bad debate, but she had her worst to date. She looked slippery as she tried to avoid talking about funding (who pays and how much do they pay) for Medicare-for-all. She got to the left of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on pulling “all troops out of the Middle East,” although her spokesperson tried walking that back after the debate.
And speaking of Sanders, who returned from his recent heart attack, his energetic debate performance and his campaign’s most genuinely emotional moment (thanking well-wishers) demonstrated he is still a force to be reckoned with. He managed to deliver a rare snub to Warren by agreeing the candidates should be honest about taxes to pay for Medicare-for-all.
Sanders also got an additional boost when Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) decided to endorse him and appeared along with Michael Moore at Sanders’s massive rally (a new campaign record of 26,000) in New York on Saturday. (After previous massive crowds, a Warren event at a half-filled smaller venue attracted notice, putting additional pressure on her advance team to keep crowd size up.) One could argue that in the general election, Warren is better off without the boosterism of the furthest-left House members, but it does set back her effort to solidify support among the most progressive Democratic primary voters.
Indeed, the Sanders resurgence and support from half of the Squad carries a reminder that Warren was never going to out-Bernie Bernie. As he said, she’s a capitalist; he is a socialist. She cares if her policy initiatives are politically plausible; he does not. One wonders, then, if it was all that wise for her to bind herself so tightly to Medicare-for-all. Granted she did not want to leave a lot of room on her left, but her effort to adhere so closely to Sanders’s unworkable and politically problematic Medicare-for-all comes with a price (not just the $30-plus trillion it will cost).
This is in no way shape or form a prediction of her demise. She has plenty of room to finesse Medicare-for-all. The uber-progressive former Harvard Law professor has convinced many Democrats that she is an Okie and the compromise candidate between the center-left and far-left. Like South Bend Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, her quick wit and agile mind helps her run rhetorical circles around many opponents.
No, the import last week’s events is not that she is done for or in trouble but that no one including Warren has a lock or even substantial advantage in the Democratic primary. There are a handful of candidates with a plausible path to the nomination, of which Warren is one but, as we witnessed last week, certainly not the only one.