Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is considered among the front-runners in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, but she woke up this week to some unwelcome advice from her hometown paper: Maybe don’t run.
The board went on to say that she may already be too divisive a political figure to take on President Trump.
As if that spurn weren’t enough, the New York Times revisited Warren’s DNA test in a story Thursday, detailing how people around the senator are worried that her plan to prove her Native American heritage backfired.
Warren’s name has been tossed around in discussions of possible presidential candidates for more than three years now, going back to when some outside the Democratic Party establishment saw Hillary Clinton’s weaknesses and wanted someone else to run in the 2016 election. But despite the Draft Warren efforts, the Massachusetts senior sat out the Democratic primary, leaving a void that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) filled.
The problem with early favorites is that there is more time for them to lose their luster. Evidence of this can be seen in recent past presidential primaries. Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani was the early favorite in the 2008 GOP presidential primary, and Hillary Clinton was the presumptive nominee for the Democrats. Neither became the nominee. Even in 2012, Mitt Romney, who eventually secured the GOP nomination that year, struggled to bat away a number of opponents who each rose in the polls and then promptly plummeted. And in 2016, although no one could have predicted the rise of Trump, the big name for Republicans at roughly this point in the process was Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
The comparisons of Warren to Hillary Clinton are hard to ignore, although the primary attributes the two share are that they are ambitious women with similar hair color who are vilified by right-wing media. Ideologically, Warren is much further to the left than Clinton, and the two diverge on many issues, including free trade and national security.
Yet the same narratives perpetuated about Clinton both in mainstream media and on fringe sites are now being applied to Warren. She’s a favorite subject on the right-wing conspiracy-theory website Infowars, which can’t seem to write enough about Warren’s DNA. Something about Warren (her X chromosome?) appears to offend the very people who despised Clinton. And even Warren’s liberal base soured on her when she backed Clinton over Sanders in the 2016 primary.
Gender writer Rebecca Traister wrote about the Hillaryification of Warren for New York Magazine last year.
“The mainstreaming of this caricature of a woman, which appeals to America’s lizard-brain disdain for the hand-in-the-air Tracy Flicks of the world — the kind who take doggedly pragmatic paths to advancement, who’ll say anything to get ahead, who invite policy experts for dinners to learn what they don’t know in a manner that comes across as striving — manages to gently but efficiently discredit Warren both with a right wing that regards ambitious women as threatening and ugly, and a left who might view her reported approach as fake, compromised and emblematic of reviled Establishment mores.”
The problem for Warren with being heralded as the savior of the left, and not rising to the occasion the first time she was called, is that it allowed several years for people to pick her apart, for her to make mistakes that would dim the light around her and for others to rise up in the meantime — figures such as Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.) and Rep. Beto O’Rourke (Tex.).
Warren is still polling near the top of the pack with about 10 percent in battleground states, behind former vice president Joe Biden, Sanders and Harris.
But not only does Warren, 69, have to contend with the gendered vilification of her candidacy, she also faces the same ageism that drags on Biden and Sanders. There’s a growing belief that a fresh-faced, charismatic candidate would be the ideal foil to Trump, who himself is 72 years old.
Warren has not said whether she plans to run, but she has made moves to appear presidential, such as shoring up her foreign policy credentials in a speech last week critiquing Trump’s handling of international affairs.
Whether Warren can overcome the obstacles in her way to become the Democratic nominee is far from clear, but having the newspaper that many of her own constituents read questioning whether she should run at all can’t be a great start.