Elizabeth Warren's big "no": Is the field clear for Hillary Clinton?

Elizabeth Warren has given her most conclusive "no" yet. Goodbye, prospective 2016 Democratic presidential drama!

Published January 15, 2015 3:45PM (EST)

Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren                 (Reuters/Carlo Allegri/Michael Dwyer)
Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren (Reuters/Carlo Allegri/Michael Dwyer)

It was Jeb Bush who kicked everything off.

As soon as the former Florida governor and "establishment" hopeful began making overt moves towards a presidential candidacy, all the other potential candidates' naive timetables' for  casual late-spring/summer announcements jumped up a few months. Mitt Romney went from nowheresville to Please please please don't forget about me, rich donor people! overnight. Rep. Paul Ryan decided he'd be better off attending to his duties as Ways and Means chairman after Romney made his intentions clear. Chris Christie, for whom there may not be enough space left, is nevertheless moving forward with the preparation of money receptacles.

Over in the Real Conservative/Evangelical bracket, Mike Huckabee quit his Fox News show in preparation for a run centered around insulting Beyoncé. The 2012 GOP presidential primary runner-up, ex-Sen. Rick Santorum, is ready to go, dismissing his rivals in the nutcase corner as "bomb-throwers." Rand Paul is putting things together, as is Ted Cruz. Scott Walker, Rick Perry, John Kasich, Mike Pence, Bobby Jindal, Ben Carson (go Ben!) and approximately 6,534 other candidates that I can't think of right now have yet to make their decisions. Marco Rubio -- yes.There's a cattle call in Iowa next weekend, hosted by Rep. Steve King. It's all happening.

Do you notice something similar about all of the candidates above? They're all dudes -- correct. But they're also all... Republicans. This general rundown of presidential candidate news was not intended to focus solely on the Republican side; it was supposed to encompass all the movements on each side. And it does. It's just that there is nothing happening on the Democratic side.

Well, maybe there is one thing. And it speaks volumes to the lack of drama in the 2016 Democratic presidential nominating contest that this one thing, this extraordinarily tiny development, could put an end to the possibility of any drama arising on the Democratic side through the presidential primary season. It is this two-line bit of dialogue from a new Fortune magazine Q&A:

[FORTUNE:] So are you going to run for President?


There it is, everyone! The last twinkle of drama and serious doubt about the outcome of the Democratic presidential nominating process disappeared when Sen. Elizabeth Warren offered a flat "no" to a future-tense query about whether she will run for president. Previously she had kept her responses to the present tense -- "I am not running" -- leaving the window cracked open one tenth of an inch that she would be running in the future. Now we have:

[FORTUNE:] So are you going to run for President?


This will not stop the Draft Warren effort that some lefty advocacy groups recently set up, because... well, they just recently set it up and have all sorts of events planned. Imagine the cancellation fees!

But we've been contorting our news judgment far enough already to keep writing about Elizabeth Warren running for president, and after this, we'd really have to contort it. Elizabeth Warren is not running and will not run. This is what she has said. Warren was the only candidate who could at least put a scare in Hillary Clinton, and by "scare" we mean "maybe get within 20 points??" She was the only one who could raise a lot of money and had the potential to catch a spark.

"Clearing the field" in its most literal sense would mean that one candidate and one candidate only is running. There's always somebody, though. There will at least be somebody, or even a few warm bodies, nominally running against Hillary Clinton.

But there's no other way to look at it without being dishonest in the pursuit of a drama that doesn't exist: Hillary Clinton has "cleared the field" for the Democratic presidential nomination to an extent that few candidates ever have. The only candidates who have put in the slightest bit of legwork -- trips to Iowa and New Hampshire, calls to local officials, etc. -- are Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, and Virginia ex-Sen. Jim Webb. Consider that for a few seconds. Exactly. Vice President Joe Biden is the only other possibility with a high profile, for better or worse, but he has done nothing -- nothing -- to set up a run, and doesn't appear all that interested as long as Clinton is running.

This is it, everyone. The Democratic presidential drama and intrigue may be over before it even started. There will come a time when a Bernie Sanders or Martin O'Malley "surges" for a couple of weeks, to within 30 points, and everyone in the media will pretend that there's a contest here.

But if you read 10,000 straight stories about intrigue on the Republican side before coming across one about the Democratic field, that's not just because Republicans are funnier to write about. It's that there is no Democratic intrigue worth covering, beyond tedious insider stories about the staffing of the Clinton campaign. (WHO'S GOING TO BE CLINTON'S DEPUTY FIELD DIRECTOR IN FLORIDA? YOU'LL NEVER BELIEVE THE ANSWER..., etc.)

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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