While many people find Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s deep policy knowledge to be an asset in the 2020 Democratic race, the conventional wisdom around her candidacy has been that she is not as “electable” as some of her opponents — most notably, former Vice President Joe Biden.
Why this has coalesced as the consensus opinion isn’t entirely clear, but it seems to stem from consideration of at least three main factors: Comparisons to Hillary Clinton, the long saga surrounding her heritage and her ill-advised choice to take a DNA test, and her relatively unimpressive approval rate in her home state of Massachusetts.
President Donald Trump has become fixated on the heritage issue, mocking her with a racist use of the name “Pochahontas” because she has said she has Native American heritage. He has previously even expressed regret at using this insult too soon, apparently assuming he should have “saved” it for a hypothetical general election campaign against her.
“I should have saved the Pocahontas thing for another year because that destroyed her political career, and now I won’t get a chance to run against her,” Trump said in March. I don’t want to knock out all of the good stuff and wind up with somebody who’s actually got talent.”
But New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman noted Tuesday night that, despite Trump’s confidence, others in his circle actually fear her potential candidacy:
In my view, this is entirely right. Of course, predicting an election more than a year out and before the nominees have even been selected is always misguided, and anything could happen. But Warren clearly has cross-over appeal on some of the issues that Trump supposedly tried to champion in 2016: trade, anti-corruption, employment security. Even Fox News host Tucker Carlson has noticed.
The difference is that Warren is actually sincere about wanting to champion the working class, and she has the intelligence to know how to do it.
Whether she could actually convince voters of this is another story. But Warren is powerful on the stump and has proved a formidable competitor on the Democratic debate stage. And, at least to my ears, she comes off at least as “authentic” as other top-performing politicians.
Could the “Pocahontas” smear stick? Maybe. And maybe it will hurt her chances of getting the nomination. But it’s hard to believe people wouldn’t get tired of it if this name-calling was Trump’s primary bludgeon during the campaign. Even if you find the attack funny, jokes get old. And voters do care about actual issues.
Democrats rightly fear that their candidate could have a flaw that weighs them down as the email scandal did with Clinton in 2016. Nut as overblown as that issue was, it at least tied into both national security issues and an ongoing criminal investigation at the time. Questions about Warren’s heritage will hardly seem important when facing the chance of another four years of Trump. Trump will try to use Warren’s past claims to paint her as insincere and phony, but she’s a powerful enough advocate for workers and consumers to combat this attack, and she less of a pre-defined quantity than Clinton was.
As the incumbent, Trump has many structural advantages that could still come to his rescue. But defeating Warren would likely be a much tougher challenge than he believes.