Elizabeth Warren is the ideas candidate in the 2020 presidential race. She’s running by far the most “policy-oriented” campaign. She’s great on the stump, too. And she’s especially likable.
At least, that’s what we are repeatedly told by reporters, analysts, writers, policy professionals, and a panoply of other interested parties. The proof, however, is in the tasting. The voting public remains stubbornly unconvinced that Warren’s natural, likable, ideas-oriented campaign is all its boosters are making it out to be.
Political opinion-makers have already dismissed Warren’s “likability,” or lack thereof, as a product of latent American sexism. No man is ever said to be unlikeable; that is, unless they’re Ted Cruz. But Warren and her staffers appear acutely aware of the fact that her “favorability” rating in polls consistently trails her “unfavorability” rating—and by anywhere from 3 to 13 points so far this year. That might explain why the senator is so eager to indulge whatever fancy captures the fickle Democratic imagination.
That’s why Warren was the first Democrat to demand that House Democrats inaugurate impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump, not for conspiracy with a foreign power or even alleged obstruction of justice but alleged attempted obstruction of justice, making Nancy Pelosi’s life immeasurably more difficult in the process. It’s why she was among the first candidates to remind the Democratic Party of its antipathy toward the Electoral College, knowing full well that this sop to the base has been thoroughly litigated and a Constitutional amendment is not forthcoming. It’s why she secured some increasingly rare media coverage this week when she offered to bribe young voters into her camp by promising to wipe out their student loan debts.
For an ideas-oriented campaign, it must be said that a proposal to bail out overextended debtors with taxpayer funds isn’t particularly innovative. It isn’t even consistent with Warren’s brand as a general opponent of taxpayer-funded bailouts for constituencies that can count on the support of powerful people in government. But this proposal, we were repeatedly told, was “bold and creative.” So, too, is her plan to pay for it: a tax on American wealth. There’s just one problem—Warren’s wealth tax is almost certainly unconstitutional.
The 16th Amendment gives the federal government the power to “lay and collect taxes on income,” not to expropriate property simply because the government wants it. When the courts have upheld the constitutionality of, for example, inheritance taxes, they have done so on the basis that it is a tax on a transaction, not the property itself. Warren’s ideas-driven campaign has driven itself into a cul-de-sac.
When we’re not being told that Elizabeth Warren is actually a natural on the campaign trail, we’re being lectured to about why it’s prejudicial to expect a presidential candidate to be a natural on the campaign trail. As The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart explained, female candidates for office cannot come across as both competent and charismatic at the same time (though Amy Klobuchar seems to have evaded this trap).
And yet, it’s not hard to see why Warren’s inauspicious reputation is deserved. When she wanted to make a point about insufficient ethics regulations governing the conduct of Supreme Court justices, she did so by alleging that the late Antonin Scalia was engaged in unethical behavior the very minute that he succumbed to a fatal heart attack. She’s insisted that the unemployment rate is below 5 percent only because Americans are “working two, three, or four jobs.” And at her appearance this week at the She The People conference, Warren let loose the following populist zinger: “When your ears are stuffed with money, you can’t hear well.” … And, apparently, it killed.
Without question, Warren’s image-makers have failed. Her polling remains unimpressive—even with the Democrats in neighboring New Hampshire who know her best. Her fundraising has been so lackluster as a result of her commitment to eschew the contributions of high-dollar donors that her campaign’s finance director resigned. Her appetite for stepping on rakes seems inexhaustible, and voters can’t help but notice. For all the efforts to make Elizabeth Warren’s presidential bid happen, it’s a contrivance. And it’s one that doesn’t seem long for this world.