Politics

04.18.14

How Elizabeth Warren’s Book Tour Could Mean Trouble for Hillary Clinton

When Elizabeth Warren hits the road to promote her memoir, the senator likely will draw a critical group of Democrats that the front-runner has had trouble connecting with before.

Elizabeth Warren is not running for president. This we know, not just because she said so at a press conference in December (It’s hard to get much more definitive than “I’m not running for president and I plan to serve out my term”) but because she has done nothing in terms of travel or fundraising that would lay the groundwork for such a campaign.

Running now would open Warren up to charges that she abandoned Massachusetts after little more than a cup of coffee in the Senate, and that she is hurting the chances of Hillary Clinton becoming the first female president.

Not that the calls for her to get in, even just to pull Clinton leftward in a primary clash, are likely to quiet. Just on Wednesday, Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor union, described Warren during a Reddit AMA as “the prototype of a person we would want to be president of the United States,” describing her as one of the rare politicians who leads from conviction. “In short, it don’t get no better.”

Soon she will embark on what is both the first step in the national campaign slog and the last refuge of the literary: the book tour. After stops in Cambridge, Boston, and Springfield, she will head to liberal strongholds like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Portland.

No pre-campaign book tour is complete (publishers hope, at least) without a spin of the national media chair. On Sunday, Warren will get a turn with Charles Osgood on CBS News Sunday Morning, where, according to excerpts sent out by the network, she reiterated her denials:  “I am not running for president,” she says in the segment. “You can ask lots of different ways.”

She then proceeds, though, to nudge the door open ever so slightly in the way that all contenders do this far away from when first votes are cast: “I wrote this book because I can’t wait any longer. It’s written out of gratitude for my start and the opportunities that America built for me, and how I think that’s what we’ve got to do again.”

If Warren sticks to her pledge or not, however, is really of no matter, certainly not for the next six weeks as she barnstorms around the country on book tour. Hawking A Fighting Chance (which was renamed from Rigged, the less-sunny working title), she will get to have all of the benefits of the campaign without any of the grubbing hustling in the Iowa cornfields. Expect to see long lines in bookstores, starstruck customers with pens in hand sporting “Warren for President” bootlegged lapel stickers, breathless media reports, more time in national TV studios, and still more questions about her future.

Which is to say that Warren is likely to spell trouble for Clinton even from her position on the sidelines. So far, Hillary has hewed to the Clintonian center. She has suggested, for example, that she would take an even more hawkish line toward Iran and the Middle East. And even as the party tilts toward the left and heralds the rise of liberals like Warren and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Clinton has wooed Wall Street and hasn’t yet pivoted toward anything that might excite the base, such as a more progressive income-tax scheme, or the repeal of Glass-Steagall, or the decriminalization of marijuana.

The same crowd of young and liberals Democrats who boosted Howard Dean in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008 remains out there, and wants to be wooed.

But the same crowd of young and liberals Democrats who boosted Howard Dean in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008 remains out there, and wants to be wooed. This has been the crowd that has been yelling “Run, Liz, Run!” that set up a Draft Warren page on Facebook  and that consists of exactly the kind of rabid partisans who are willing to drop out of school or quit their jobs to knock on doors in the snows of Cedar Rapids.

They have never much cared for the Clintons; Bill was too accommodating to conservatives, and Hillary always seemed like more of the same, and so they were engine behind Obama’s rise from nowhere in 2008. So far, Hillary hasn’t seemed like she should be much concerned about them, not when Brian Schweitzer is the only alternative. And with polls showing Hillary as a gargantuan favorite, it appears as if few Democrats of any stripe have much stomach for an internecine struggle.

But with Warren coming to a Barnes & Noble near you, this could change. After a long stretch where there has been no real presidential political news on the Democratic side (contrasted to the GOP, where the campaign circus is already in full swing), Warren is likely to be greeted as a liberator. She could still resist the siren call to get in the race, but her presence on the national stage over the next several weeks is going to remind Democrats of the voices that are missing from their side of the debate. If anything is going to get Hillary Clinton paying attention to those voices, A Fighting Chance will be it.