What happened to Warren?

I hated not voting for Warren on Tuesday.  But, I definitely think it was the right move under the circumstances.  To me, and almost every political scientist I know (not to mention a huge portion of female college graduates/students) she would so clearly have been the best president.  Anyway, lots of really interesting post-mortems yesterday.  I’ll start by saying I think sexism was certainly part of the probably– especially with concerns about electability– but to pin this primarily on sexism is way too reductionist.  Anyway, snippets from takes I agree with (TL;DR at the end):

Perry Bacon Jr.’s probably my favorite overall take:

The party was wary of a “too liberal” nominee

Warren took positions similar to those Sanders has embraced, such as supporting a wealth tax and, most notably, calling for Medicare for All. Some more centrist Democrats simply oppose those policies. Others worried that Medicare for All, and the winding down of private insurance, would be too disruptive and the idea would scare away too many voters.

So Warren’s ascent to the top of the polls was met with resistance from a big chunk of the Democratic Party establishment. News articles began to proliferate quoting party donors and leaders fretting about the Democratic 2020 field. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick launched late bids for the nomination that almost amounted to “Stop Warren” candidacies. The anti-Warren movement was essentially a preview of the more aggressive anti-Sanders campaign orchestrated by party establishment figures between the Vermont senator’s victory in the Nevada caucuses and Super Tuesday.

So whatever her campaign tactics, Warren likely would have struggled to win the nomination for the same reason that Sanders is now an underdog to Biden: Her leftism didn’t appeal to party elites, who signaled to voters that Warren lacked “electability,” the credential many Democratic voters are obsessed with this election cycle.

Of course, Warren could have taken different policy positions, or tried spinning the same ones in different ways, except …

She tried to win very liberal voters from Sanders..

But with Sanders leaning into that stance, she opted to adopt a similar position. And in the fall of 2019, she doubled down, releasing a detailed proposal to fund Medicare for All. When Sanders had a heart attack in early October, many people, including me, anticipated that he would gradually drop in the polls, and Warren’s advisers might have assumed so as well. In that context, Sanders’s voters would be up for grabs, and supporting Medicare for All would help Warren inherit those supporters. Or the Warren campaign may have simply hoped to win over the Sanders bloc, heart attack or no; remember, she had been climbing in the polls for months at that point.

Instead, Sanders recovered, both healthwise and in the polls. Once voting started, Warren performed best among Democrats who described their views as “very liberal,” but she still trailed Sanders among those voters. And she had terrible numbers among self-described moderates. She had failed to outflank Sanders on the left, but she failed to win over those voters while also convincing a lot of centrist Democrats that she was too liberal and perhaps a risky bet in the general election…

She was the “wine track” candidate

There is a long tradition of lefty candidates running in the Democratic primary and getting a lot of traction, buzz and campaign donations from party activists but not really catching on with rank-and-file voters. Think Sen. Bill Bradley in the 2000 presidential cycle or Gov. Howard Dean in 2004. This kind of candidate is sometimes referred to the “wine track” candidate, who appeals mainly to elites, as opposed to candidates who are on more “beer track,” who are thought of as being better at connecting with the working class.

Warren was perhaps the 2020 wine track candidate. In her campaigning and policy plans, Warren tried hard to counter this weakness by courting working class and nonwhite voters. She was well-liked by black academics, figures associated with the Black Lives Matter movement and a hard-to-qualify bloc of black figures who are vocal on Twitter and influential in non-electoral ways.

But she just never caught on with a broad swath of voters — polls suggest that she had little support outside of white college graduates.


When Elizabeth Warren began her candidacy in 2018, I expected her to be the candidate who would get my vote. She had, in my view, identified the political and policy sweet spots to move her party left: corruption and financial regulation, and she designed effective populist plans to rein in Wall Street and the power of organized money. But her campaign did not quickly catch fire, and over 2019 she tried to woo progressive activists by moving left on a wide suite of social and economic positions, matching every bid put up by Bernie Sanders. As New York Times reporter Astead Herndon noted recently, her use of intersectional rhetoric won the professional left’s acclaim, but left voters in the communities it was attempting to reach cold. By the end, she was boxed out on both sides: She had lost her mainstream appeal to the center left, but was still unable to dislodge the Sanders hardcore.

Paul Waldman taking this really hard, “Warren’s wrenching downfall says something terrible about 2020”

Is it enough, as a presidential candidate, to have smarts and charisma, to have a clear and concise message, to even be the best debater, and most of all to be the best prepared to do the job effectively?

No, it is not. Which is why so often during this primary campaign, we’ve heard supporters of Elizabeth Warren ask plaintively, “Hey, what if we got behind the person who’d actually be the best president? Why not do that?”

They asked because the number of voters willing to do that was not what it might have been, which is why Warren has announced that she’s ending her bid for the White House

But we can’t consider Warren’s candidacy without seeing sexism, both in fact and in perception, for the hindrance it was for her.

To be clear, sexism isn’t the only reason Warren will not be the Democratic nominee. There are many reasons. She had a few stumbles along the way, as every campaign does. There were some decisions she could have made differently.

But her campaign and the particular way it failed tell us a lot about how gender operates in presidential politics.

Let’s consider that Joe Biden is the likeliest candidate to be the Democratic nominee, despite the fact that he has run an absolutely abysmal campaign and is so erratic that sympathetic Democrats regularly tell one another, “I saw Biden give an interview, and he was completely coherent!” as though they were praising a toddler. Biden won a sweeping victory on Super Tuesday even in states where he did not campaign for a single day or have an organization. There has never in my lifetime been a winning presidential campaign that was so weak on so many dimensions.

And yet Biden is cruising toward the nomination. Why?

Because of a collective decision among a significant portion of the Democratic electorate that he is “electable,” i.e., that other people will find him inoffensive enough to vote for. As Michelle Cottle noted, one poll last year asked Democrats who they were supporting, and Biden was in the lead; when they asked who they’d rather see as president if they could wave a magic wand, Warren was in front.

You’ve probably heard that again and again: Voters saying Warren is the one they liked the best, but because they didn’t think she was electable, they were supporting someone else, most often Biden…

Yes, female candidates have been more and more successful at running for all levels of government; this was particularly true in the 2018 midterm elections. But the presidency is different. It’s about authority, and power, and command. And still, in 2020, millions of Americans simply cannot wrap their heads around the idea of a woman in that job.

And Five different theories examined in the Atlantic:

3. It was the scourge of electability: Warren was seen as a risky choice.

Amy Walter, a political analyst and the national editor for The Cook Political Report:

For voters who were looking for a liberal, Bernie Sanders–like candidate but wanted a new model—somebody who was not as old, not as male, not as crotchety—[Warren] looked like this new great option. And for other voters, especially for a lot of women who wouldn’t put themselves in the “very liberal” category, there was an appeal to her because she seemed more unifying than Bernie Sanders. But both of those sides [ultimately] felt very unsatisfied: If you were worried about electability, her decision to say, Well, I’m not totally backing away from Medicare for All made you think she’s still going to be hit for being too liberal in November. If you were looking for a new version of Bernie Sanders, she didn’t provide that either.

What has really plagued every candidate and, quite frankly, the Democratic Party this year is this focus on electability. It was supposed to make the race clearer and easier to understand. This wasn’t about falling in love—this was about the cold, hard reality of electability. Except, as we all know, the idea of electability is a really fungible one.

The risk tolerance among Democrats in 2008 was much higher than it is in 2020. When you talk to voters, there is this paralyzing fear of picking the wrong person, and it has just really screwed up the opportunity for those candidates who were seen as riskier. If we were in a different era, if this were not Donald Trump as president and if Democratic voters were not as obsessed with this idea of electability, would we be in a different place? Yeah, we might. Unfortunately, as a candidate you can’t control for that. All you can do is try to hope you’re running at the right time.

4. Blame The New York Times/Siena College poll that showed President Donald Trump beating Warren in head-to-head matchups in several key swing states.

Dave Wasserman, an elections analyst and the U.S. House editor for The Cook Political Report:

It’s impossible to draw a direct line of causation, but here are a few things we know: Democrats are obsessed with electability. No. 2, Warren’s support is very concentrated among liberal whites with college degrees. No. 3, we know that happens to be a large New York Times–reading demographic.

When you put those things together, it makes sense that Democrats and Warren supporters could read that polling and have second thoughts about supporting her. The other aspect here is her adjustments to her health-care plan and the timeline for moving toward Medicare for All. It robbed her of some of the purity that Sanders possesses, and it might have dented the perception that she knows exactly what she wants to do. It might have been an acknowledgment that her initial [Medicare for All] plan [was] problematic to sell to a general electorate.

[This kind of voter punditry] happens in every election, but maybe not to the extent we’re seeing in 2020.

That’s a lot.  TLDR: Warren definitely made some strategic mistakes with positioning most notably M4A, and went too far left in a way that negatively interacted with concerns about her electability (so often I heard “Sanders and Warren” and thought, but, no, they’re really quite different).  And, real-world polling data that might not have actually been all that predictive interacted negatively with her gender and concerns about her electability.  And, she would have been a good nominee and a good president and it’s all really damn unfortunate. 

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