Donald Trump and progressives have something in common: They both want Elizabeth Warren to be the Democratic nominee.
If polls are to be believed, then Warren is either on the verge of overtaking Joe Biden or already has. For many Democrats, this is a matter of the heart wanting what the heart wants—of falling in love, instead of falling in line. Biden is seen as moderate old news, while Warren would be a bolder choice who would also—as the first female president—be an historic one.
For Trump and the GOP, their rooting interest is more Machiavellian: They look at Warren in roughly the way Ohio State looks at Indiana, or the cheetah looks at the wildebeest—which is to say they see her as the second coming of Hillary Clinton.
Now, if we’ve learned anything these last few years, it’s that people should be careful what they wish for. Democrats were giddy to have Donald Trump be the Republican nominee, based on the Claire McCaskill risky theory that candidates should pick their own opponents.
Playing God is dangerous. And, in 2016, it turned out to be a disaster that we’re all still paying for.
Likewise, it’s entirely possible that Republicans who now see Warren as the weakling in the herd may ultimately regret having paved the way for a very, very progressive president.
In the wake of Trump’s election, it would be foolish to write off anyone’s chances. Once you become a nominee—once it’s basically a binary choice—then, all bets are off. It’s not fantastical to imagine the possibility that Elizabeth Warren could be elected. The question is whether—with the stakes being so high—she’s the smart bet for Democrats. And here, I think the answer is a resounding “no.”
There are a lot of practical reasons to believe that Biden is the best bet for Dems who prioritize winning in 2020. But it’s also worth discussing why Warren doesn’t match up so well against Biden.
From a substantive policy standpoint, Trump will be able to talk about how Warren wants to kick people off of their private health insurance plans, and how she can’t pay for her “plans” because they don’t add up (without massively raising taxes). Although she calls herself a capitalist, Trump will be able to plausibly call some of her plans socialism. There’s also the “Pocahontas” gaffe, which can be seen both as a cheap way for Trump to mock and troll Warren, but also as a serious and substantive critique of Warren’s honesty and authenticity.
The real reason Democrats should worry about a Warren nomination is that this election is about the Electoral College map—and more specifically—about flipping a few states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Florida. These are all states where Trump very narrowly won in 2016.
The two most obvious strategies for winning back these states are as follows: a) Flip working-class white Obama-Trump voters, or b) increase turnout among minority voters. Because the margins are so narrow, it’s possible to imagine that either strategy—or a combination of both—could be enough.
Now ask yourself this question: Is Warren equipped to pull off either maneuver?
Can Warren win the working-class guy in the Rust Belt? She certainly has a populist appeal, but Warren also comes across as someone who is lecturing you—sort of in the vein of a middle school vice principal. In the world of academia, and to educated liberals, this may seem charming and eloquent. But to a lot of guys in middle America (this is based on the fact that my dad was a prison guard for 30 years, I went to college in West Virginia, and my mom is a Trump voter in Pennsylvania), I just don’t see them pulling the lever for her.
Still, the margins are so narrow that even this isn’t a deal-breaker. Trump might have won the presidency on the backs of working-class white guys, but there’s more than one way to skin a cat. A Democrat could also win by increasing minority turnout in these key battleground states. Again, though, Warren may not be the perfect candidate for this job.
Although she has recently been gaining ground among African-American voters, Warren is hardly a natural fit if you’re looking for someone to reconstitute the “Obama coalition.” What is more, it seems likely that she might fall into the same dilemma as Hillary Clinton, who—in a desperate, failed bid to increase minority turnout—had to talk about race a lot more than Obama had to (thus also turning off more working-class white voters along the way).
Again, this is not to say that it’s impossible for Warren to win the presidency, but it is to say that—almost any way you slice it—Warren is probably not the best matchup against Trump.
One good rule of thumb in life is to avoid doing the very thing your adversary wants you to do. If he wants you to run the ball, you should probably pass. And if he wants you to nominate another Massachusetts liberal, you should probably also pass.
We are currently embroiled in an impeachment controversy specifically because Trump is afraid of facing Biden in a general election. That’s why, just at this moment, it’s amazing that Democrats seem to be on the verge of giving Donald Trump exactly what he so desperately craves.