Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren (Sean Rayford/Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Elizabeth Warren's frenemies: Her rise has been helped by haters

Elizabeth Warren has become billionaires' Public Enemy No. 1. Do they genuinely not understand that helps her?


Sophia Tesfaye
October 16, 2019 11:00AM (UTC)

The time between the third and fourth Democratic presidential primary debates has made one thing clear amidst a historically crowded field: Elizabeth Warren is surging. 

The Massachusetts senator’s campaign raised the second-highest amount of donations in the third quarter, close behind the powerhouse grassroots operation of Sen. Bernie Sanders. After a series of debate blunders and distractions via President Trump’s request for election interference from Ukraine, former Vice President Joe Biden’s “electability” argument has largely vaporized. One year after her disastrous attempt to fact-check Trump’s racist attacks using dubious race science, Warren seems to have shaken off the “Pocahontas” slur on her way to the latest national polls. Coincidentally, Warren’s biggest billionaire haters — the ones not named Trump — have suddenly decided to air their public misgivings about the progressive reformer who has staked her brand on attacking the corrupting influence of big money in American politics.

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As CNBC’s Jim Cramer recently explained: “The financial community is really worried about the possibility of Sen. Elizabeth Warren becoming president.” A theme among corporate executives, he said, is that “she’s got to be stopped.”

Take for instance former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who published an op-ed in the Washington Post on Tuesday chiding the Democratic candidates for promoting lofty goals devoid of specific plans for passage. “[V]oters must demand they explain how they intend to move from proposing plans to actually implementing them, including passing them through Congress," Bloomberg wrote. "Those who dodge the question by speaking of revolution and the bully pulpit aren’t up to the job” That was clearly directed at Sanders’ and Warren’s left-leaning campaigns. 

After months of threats, Bloomberg, a onetime Republican turned independent turned Democrat, said in March that he would not join the already crowded Democratic primary. 

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“We cannot allow the primary process to drag the party to an extreme that would diminish our chances in the general election and translate into ‘Four More Years,’” he warned in an op-ed at the time. 

That promise, it seems, was contingent upon Biden taking the Democratic nomination. Now that Biden is dropping in the polls, Bloomberg seems to be in a bit of a panic and is reportedly again considering a run

In August, Bloomberg cited his millions in philanthropic giving to push back against Warren’s critiques. “If my company wouldn’t be successful, we wouldn’t be here today,” Bloomberg said he told Warren backstage at an Everytown for Gun Safety event in Iowa. “So enough with this stuff.”

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Bloomberg's success — and the platform to strut as a billionaire do-gooder — is the result of an unjust system. The fact that we need billionaire philanthropists to sponsor political forums is the product of an unjust system. The fact that he thinks this justifies his obscene personal wealth is a symptom of an unjust system. 

Bloomberg, a plutocrat who has held no elective office for the last six years, was fine sitting out when he thought Joe "nothing will fundamentally change" Biden was a lock for the nomination. But now it seems increasingly likely that Warren could win it. (And Sanders can't be counted out just yet, much as the mainstream media would like to do so.) So now he wants to jump in and tip things to Trump because Warren, like Sanders, presents a real threat to the status quo.

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has all but said the same about Warren. The Verge obtained leaked audio of Zuckerberg calling a Warren presidency an "existential" threat to Facebook and lamenting the prospect of a future legal challenge to prevent her from breaking the company up.

After Warren announced earlier this month that, as president, she would investigate and regulate Facebook, Zuckerberg made a rare public statement, vowing to "go to the mat and fight.” Days later, Facebook curiously shifted on its ban on political campaigns making false claims. When Warren bought a political ad on Facebook this past week that purposefully included false claims about Zuckerberg and Trump — in an effort to goad the social network to remove misinformation in political ads ahead of the 2020 election — the company pushed back hard on Twitter.

“Facebook already helped elect Donald Trump once through negligence. Now, they've changed their policy so they can profit from lies to the American people,” Warren wrote on Twitter.“It's time to hold Mark Zuckerberg accountable.”

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Facebook is a monopoly with an outsized role in the spread of Russian misinformation that favors Trump. Zuckerberg will help Trump get elected again to avoid Warren or Sanders because they want to regulate Facebook. Part of the platform's Faustian bargain is humoring the debunked claim that it actually harms Republicans by hosting clandestine talks with Tucker Carlson and Sen. Lindsey Graham to discuss free speech issues and potential partnerships.

Business Insider’s Natasha Bertrand quoted a source saying, “The discussion in Silicon Valley is that Zuckerberg is very concerned about [Bill] Barr's DOJ bringing an enforcement action to break up the company. So the fear is Zuckerberg is trying to appease the Trump administration by not cracking down on right-wing propaganda.”

If you yearn to appease the current Department of Justice, then all you need to do is to make sure the president who sees it as his private fiefdom remains in power. But rich billionaires don’t understand that they’re actually helping Warren with their non-endorsements instead of hurting her. "Wall Street hates her" and "Mark Zuckerberg is afraid of her" sound so much like pro-Warren campaign slogans that I’m tempted to believe this is a long game, more about tilting the contest toward Warren, and preventing Sanders, an avowed democratic socialist, from winning the nomination. 

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Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's Deputy Politics Editor and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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