I wrote here about Elizabeth Warren’s commencement speech at Morgan State University earlier this month. In her address, Warren pandered shamelessly to her audience of African-Americans.
The focus of my post was on the nonsensical content of Warren’s speech and how she was sending the wrong message to the graduates. As to the politics, I noted only that the audience probably would have preferred “a younger, more ‘with it’ speaker to Warren — a 69 year-old politician trying to restore her ‘intersectional’ credentials after the embarrassment of her DNA test.”
Today’s Washington Post mentions Warren’s speech at Morgan State in the context of her problem appealing to African-American voters. And she does have that problem. The Post’s Annie Linksey tells us that in a straw poll of black female activists and strategists taken this month, just 22 percent picked Warren as one of their top three candidates. Ahead of her were Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Beto O’Rourke, and Joe Biden.
In a poll that included black male activists and strategists, Warren might well fare worse. In a poll of all black Democrats, not just its “activists and strategists,” she might fare worse yet.
The Post cites several factors that could explain Warren’s lack of appeal to African-Americans. Her economic populism places too much blame for poverty on capitalism (in effect) and not enough on racism. Two of her rivals are African-American and a third served as vice president to a black president. Her home state is very “white.” Her DNA test revealed she was lying about her ethnicity (the Post puts it more politely).
Each of these factors may be at work. The DNA test may not count for much in itself, but it does suggest an inauthenticity that could work against her.
The bigger problem, though, is that there’s little in Warren’s persona that is likely to fire up African-Americans. Warren is an academic. She lacks the common touch. She can scold, but she can’t preach.
Hillary Clinton was very similar, but she had her husband. Without him, it’s unlikely that she would have done nearly as well with black primary voters as she did in 2016. And even with him, she did poorly in 2008, when there was an African-American alternative.
Without decent support from African-Americans, Warren faces a steep uphill battle for the nomination (assuming she seeks it). As Linksey points out:
[O]n average, 25 percent of the primary voters and caucusgoers in the last presidential contest were black. In 2016, African American voters made up 62 percent of the electorate in South Carolina, a key early-voting state. They also make up a large share of the vote in southern states that cast ballots on Super Tuesday or later in the calendar.
Warren’s lack of the common touch will likely hamper her among non-black primary voters and caucusgoers too. She may be able to fire up radical feminists of a certain age, but she will need significantly broader support than that to make a strong run at the nomination.
Maybe Warren will show a side of herself on the campaign trail that I haven’t yet seen, but right now she seems like a long-shot for the 2020 nomination.