In this post about Elizabeth Warren’s prospects as a presidential candidate, I compared her to Hillary Clinton (without Bill). Like Hillary, Warren has little in her persona that’s likely to fire up voters, other than feminists of a certain age. She lacks the common touch. She can scold, but she can’t preach. Audiences, if they are well-disposed coming in, may come away impressed, but they’re unlikely to come away inspired.
I’m not the only one who’s comparing Warren to Hillary Clinton. Indeed, the comparison apparently is so widespread that Edward-Issac Dovere has an article in the Atlantic called “Elizabeth Warren Doesn’t Want to Be Hillary 2.0.”
Who would want that?
Dovere suggests that the comparison stems in part from Warren’s status as a frontrunner. But Warren is not a frontrunner. The polls, for what they are worth, say she’s a middle tier candidate.
Warren’s supporters think the comparison stems from sexism. But as Dovere notes, no other female candidate in the projected field is being compared to Hillary. If anything, the comparison may have more to do with age than with gender.
The true basis for the comparison probably rests in perceived lack of authenticity. Dovere explains:
Operatives working for several other Democratic candidates. . .describe [Warren] as overly cautious and cold, carefully curating her “authentic” moments and struggling to escape a relatively small issue—her claim of American Indian heritage—that’s threatened to overtake her entire candidacy. Her big speech just after Thanksgiving on “a foreign policy that works for all Americans” sounded a whole lot like Clinton’s focus-grouped emphasis on “everyday Americans,” several operatives argue.
You don’t have to be working for Warren’s opponents to perceive an authenticity gap. The false claim of Indian heritage is Exhibit A. Her reliance on Oklahoma and working class roots also figure in. The claims she makes in this regard are, I assume, true, but she doesn’t project Oklahoma or working class. She projects Harvard and academia. She projects lecturing, not listening.
Let’s be fair to Warren, though. She’s not an ideological phony.
Unlike Hillary Clinton, Warren has had a consistent message and a single political persona. She took on the mantle of left-wing populist the moment she entered the public’s consciousness — at the time of the 2008 economic crisis. She has worn it ever since.
Years before Bernie Sanders took the national stage and nearly a decade before Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, and Beto O’Rourke did, Elizabeth Warren was railing against capitalists and (in effect) capitalism.
Anti-capitalism voters — a significant cohort among Democratic primary voters and caucus goers — may give her points for this. Combine a portion of this bloc with the votes of older feminists, and Warren may have a shot at the nomination. This, says Dovere, is Warren’s play: “put together enough of a coalition between Clinton and Sanders voters to win.”
But giving Warren points isn’t the same thing as voting for her. And being the original anti-capitalist mainstream Democrat isn’t the same thing as being the shiniest, most desirable one.