What's Elizabeth Warren's endgame?

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Matthew Walther
·4 min read
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Please don't tell the hall monitor, but I am about to stop using my inside voice. I realize that if anyone says anything that isn't nice about Elizabeth Warren, she feels the need to tattle, so I will confine my remarks to the bland observation that after finishing third in her home state of Massachusetts on Tuesday there is no serious reason for her to remain in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

That doesn't mean there are no reasons at all, of course. I can think of only two. The first is that she recognizes what everyone who has spent five minutes doing bar napkin math or messing around with one of those online calculators already knows: namely, that there is still a very good chance that none of the candidates will secure the 1991 delegates necessary to win on the first ballot. Some reports suggest that she envisions a scenario in which party elites decide that she represents the closest thing to a viable medium between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, a moderate-progressive consensus candidate who can unite the party and the nation. This is lunacy, of course, but candidates every bit as much as journalists need fantasies of this kind to make these contests interesting.

Why else might Warren choose to remain in the race? It could simply be that she is staying in for the same reason that Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar withdrew — that is, in order to prevent Sanders from winning outright. As the only other candidate in the race who might plausibly be described as progressive, she is the person most likely to win over voters who might otherwise go for Sanders.

The question is how many. As of Tuesday night she has managed to win no primaries or caucuses and appears to have only surpassed the 15 percent threshold necessary to be awarded delegates in Massachusetts, Maine, Minnesota, and Colorado, in each of which she placed no higher than third. It could be argued that in what looks to be an exceedingly tight race going forward, every delegate matters. But come on. Nothing is going to convince a two-term senator like Warren to spend the next three months of her life traversing the country, making speeches to vanishingly small and perhaps even nonexistent crowds and attending fundraisers in the hope of making off with 100 or so potential Sanders delegates. Not even a guaranteed spot on the ticket in November would be enough to convince her or any other sane politician to undergo such a humiliating slog.

Which is why I do not actually think Warren will remain in the race through next week's round of primaries. For a number of reasons, not least the fact that she has been consistently critical of Biden over the course of this campaign, including recently, we should probably not expect an immediate endorsement of the former vice president. Might she instead attempt to mend fences with Sanders, whom she accused of being a sexist on national television only a few weeks ago? If she is willing to swallow her pride, this could lead to renewed speculation about what was once considered the progressive dream ticket.

Regardless of her next move, it is hard to escape the conclusion that Warren's presidential campaign was an unfortunate failure. Throughout this race she has spoken with more precision and clarity about the essential aspects of Sanders' platform than the man himself and has done so without giving voters the impression that she is some kind of Maoist lunatic. There was a brief period in which it seemed possible that she could, by sheer force of will, convince the Democratic establishment to swing to the left on economic questions. But she also showed herself to have terrible political instincts. Allowing herself to be baited by President Trump into not only taking but triumphantly reporting the results of a DNA test suggesting that she might have a statistically significant amount of Native American ancestry is still one of the greatest unforced errors in recent political history, the kind of blunder so embarrassing that you feel like a gloating monster just knowing that it happened. I, for one, hope that a return to the Senate as a backbencher will involve going back to her roots as a heterodox thinker with surprisingly reactionary instincts.

I hope saying that doesn't get me in trouble.

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