The recovery strategy? Forget the no-compromise politics of leftism she hoped would whittle away supporters from Bernie Sanders; she has instead become a compromise herself. How else to explain the call Tuesday night in her semi-concession speech for “a nominee that the broadest coalition of our party feels they can get behind”?
“I am turning away from the idea of seeing each other as if I win, you lose. You know, if you win, I lose,” she said, just before losing in New Hampshire.
The position is treacherous precisely because it’s milquetoast.
Unity does look alluring given the imperative to defeat so dangerous a president. But that’s where the electability trap has tripped up Warren, particularly as she pales against most of her rivals in a head-to-head match-up with President Trump and as descriptions of Warren as “schoolmarmish” remind us that sexism could doom any woman’s shot at the White House.
And then there’s the greater hang-up: The concept of the unity candidate is just that — a concept. The reality of Democratic primaries isn’t a tale of competing camps coming to peaceable agreement on a nominee who floats both their boats. It’s a tale of competing camps continuing to compete until one of those boats sinks, sometimes right on the convention’s eve, allowing for the loser to exert as much influence over the party platform and other matters as possible.
Besides, there’s no such thing as a unity candidate, really. Unity among whom? Pete Buttigieg could be your unity candidate, if you’re seeking to unite Rust Belters and veterans with Harvard College and McKinsey consulting alumni. Sanders could be your unity candidate, if you’re trying to bring together a rising generation of urbanites, blue-collar union guys and weed-smoking gun owners. Joe Biden claims he can attract people of color along with older moderates who associate the word “revolution” with the Soviet Union.
Warren has a tougher case to make for bridging demographics, because her base has never been especially cross-cutting. It doesn’t take much to get two college-educated whites to shake hands. So she has made the case for bridging ideology instead.
She began trying to build that bridge with the declaration that she’s a “capitalist to my bones” — coupled with the cry that the same capitalist system is rigged. Her Medicare-for-all plan one week gave way to a public-option-style proposal with a touch more progressive panache than Buttigieg’s the next. Her rhetoric softened more and more as time went on, and her quest for consensus is more explicit today than ever.
Just listen to Warren after her defeat this week: “The question for us, Democrats, is whether it will be a long, bitter rehash of the same old divides in our party, or whether we can find another way. These harsh tactics might work if you’re willing to burn down the rest of the party in order to be the last man standing. They might work if you don’t worry about leaving our party and our politics worse off than how you found it.”
Yeah, okay. But the important part is right there. The tactics might work. And Warren’s approach ignores that possibility.
Warren might hope that her slow and unsteady march not to the middle, but to somewhere she believes the middle will be willing to meet her, can win over credentialed liberals who recognize what’s wrong with the status quo but would rather not explode the establishment entirely. She’s telling those who want a Goldilocks amount of change that she’s someone they can live with.
Meanwhile, sticking with that “rigged system” line and slamming rivals who “suck up” to billionaires, while holding on to plenty of policies that remain as radical as they were from the start, should mean the fed-up and the far-out can live with her, too.
But you don’t win a primary by being the candidate everyone can live with — you win a primary being the candidate people want to live with. And then you win a general election by being the candidate everyone has to live with.
The problem is, Warren doesn’t have a plan for that.
Watch the latest Opinions video featuring Molly Roberts singing: