The first would necessitate that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) stumble. Because he has delighted in poking so many Democrats in the eye, and declined to explain any real-world scenario in which his $30 trillion Medicare-for-all scheme could work, it is possible that Sanders’s appeal fades. A bad debate performance, a series of troubling revelations and/or rising concern about refusal to release his health records — as he promised following his heart attack five months ago — might slow him. Warren, the only woman left in the race (and therefore now with the backing of Emily’s List), could surge. Nevertheless, the potential for her to get a majority of delegates, or even a plurality, is not huge.
The second route is as a compromise candidate in the convention. There is a not insignificant chance that not only could no candidate obtain a majority but that the votes will be rather evenly divided between Sanders and former vice president Joe Biden. Warren might bargain her way onto the ticket as a VP, but she could also present herself as the compromise between the far left and the center left.
If she wants to fight for the nomination — as opposed to placating the Bernie Bros or angling for a Cabinet spot — she is going to need to draw some sharp contrasts between herself and Sanders, which is something she has been reluctant to do. Simply saying, “I’d be a better president,” no matter how true, is not going to do it. She does, however, have several potential lines of attack.
First, Sanders’s refusal to release his medical records is as disturbing, if not more, than Bloomberg’s refusal to waive nondisclosure agreements. Both go to fitness to serve and to the honesty of the candidates in communicating information to the public. Warren can put transparency front and center.
Second, rather than simply say she would be a better president, Warren is well-situated to make the point that Sanders does not get along with others. He will win no popularity contests in Congress, has not developed relationships within the party — let alone across the aisle — and really has no clue how to govern. She, on the other hand, did set up and staff an agency with more than 1,000 people, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. She turned an idea into something concrete. Sanders is the guy you want to rabble-rouse and whip up the crowd, but he shows little inclination to reconcile a divided party and to get into the weeds of governance.
Finally, Warren should say out loud what honest progressives know: Sanders is too easy to caricature, too much of a burden to down-ticket Democrats, and too vulnerable to attacks about past comments and writings. In short, she has a case to make that Sanders’s ideas are not disqualifying, but his biography, demeanor and tone are. That’s a tough argument to make to an old ally, but if she hadn’t noticed, he sure has no qualms about trying to knock her out of the race by winning her home state. Politics is not for the timid.
If Warren really wants the nomination, she needs to overcome her aversion to hitting Sanders. If not, she might as well go home after Tuesday night’s votes are counted.