R.I.P., Elizabeth Warren '16 fantasy: Why she's really (probably) not running for president now

The liberal star will now be an official Senate Democratic message-maker. Here's why Hillary can breathe easier now

Published November 14, 2014 12:00PM (EST)

  (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)
(AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

Congratulations to Elizabeth Warren! She has been knighted as a member of the Senate Democratic leadership, just in time for Democrats to hand over power to the Republican Party.

She will serve in a newly created position as a "liaison to liberal groups." Her official title will be "strategic policy adviser to the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee," where she will "[help] craft the party's policy positions and priorities." (Just in time for the Democratic Senate leadership to bring up a vote on building the Keystone XL pipeline.)

What does this mean? First thing is that "Elizabeth Warren raises a lot of money for the Democratic Party and is being rewarded with a title." As it happens, she addressed the Democracy Alliance of wealthy liberal donors yesterday, and this time, it was as an emissary from the Senate Democratic leadership.

So one of the party's top fundraisers is being given a more visible perch. But how influential will she be? She'll still rank behind Sens. Harry Reid, Dick Durbin and Chuck Schumer, the sort of people who feel plenty confident in their own abilities to "craft the party's positions and priorities." The main positions and priorities that the new Senate minority will have to decide is: do we filibuster this thing or not filibuster this thing? No small task, but the question of determining which bills to bring to the floor no longer rest in this leadership's hands.

The biggest signal that this sends is that Warren, who has said she's not running for president about 50 million times but you never know, is ... still not running for president. In accepting this leadership position, she's helping craft the party's top position and priority, all right, ensuring smooth sailing for Hillary Clinton to win the Democratic presidential nomination.

You don't set the groundwork for an outsider campaign against the Democratic establishment by moving further inside the Democratic establishment. Especially right now, when we're nearing form-an-exploratory-committee season. As Vox writes, "if she intended to challenge the powerful front-runner Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, she'd really have to start planning about now."

Warren's decision to improve her standing within the Senate, rather than start building a groundwork for a presidential campaign, may represent an overall shift within the "liberal groups" with whom she intends to liaise. Rather than rally around an alternative to Hillary Clinton, the goal ahead of 2016 may now be to get some assurances from Hillary Clinton on progressive issues. Consider this statement today from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a group that's made its name by affixing itself to the Warren brand:

"As Elizabeth Warren advocates for big ideas like reforming Wall Street, making college affordable, and expanding Social Security benefits, her voice will now be even louder -- because she'll be at the Democratic leadership table," the PCCC said in an email to supporters on Thursday.

So Elizabeth Warren can do her Elizabeth Warren stuff from the Democratic leadership table. This comes a few days after MSNBC reported that the PCCC is trying to open some sort of diplomatic channel with Clinton. There are conversations about conversations and meetings about meetings in the works!

Adam Green, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, one of the groups most closely associated with the so-called “Warren wing of the Democratic Party,” said his organization reached out to Clinton’s camp before the election and that a meeting was coming “very soon.”

He declined to name the Clinton advisers with whom he’s been in contact, saying discussions have so far been limited to “conversations about having conversations.” “We want to keep as open a line of communication with Hillary Clinton and her team as possible,” he told msnbc. [...]

Their message is that Clinton should adopt the kind of economic inequality issues championed by Warren, both for substantive and political reasons. “This is the path to victory in the primary and general election,” Green and co-founder Stephanie Taylor wrote in an Op-Ed in The Hill.

These are indications that the organized left is moving toward making a peace treaty with Clinton and the Democratic Party leadership at large, rather than going all-in and trying to defeat her. The terms of the peace treaty are that Warren -- who seems like the only person with a potential to put a real scare in Clinton -- will stay in the Senate and get a leadership role there, from which she will help the party Craft Its Messaging. Maybe a Bernie Sanders or someone similarly unthreatening will be thrown into the race in order to keep Clinton on-point, message-wise. It's all being sorted out, in conversations about conversations.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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