To borrow a phrase from Seinfeld, this is a post about nothing. There’s no better way to describe the current buzz about Elizabeth Warren.
It had to happen. The next presidential primary season is still two years away, but some folks in the media are already jonesing for action.
Hillary Clinton is the presumed Democratic front-runner, but that story won’t be any fun unless she’s challenged. A story without conflict is a bore, so naturally it’s imperative that she be given a challenger, even if the person annointed for that role has no interest in challenging.
Hence Elizabeth Warren, the buzzosphere’s bright shiny object.
Perfect, right? An establishment Democrat like Hillary needs to be challenged from the left, and the freshman Massachusetts senator fits the bill. Hillary has lots of ties to Wall Street – she got 400 grand from Goldman Sachs for two recent speeches – but Warren is the nemesis of Wall Street. Hillary is seen as inevitable, and inevitability doesn’t stir the passions. Within the liberal Democratic base, Warren stirs the passions. Boredom problem solved.
The New Republic magazine kicked things off eight days ago with a 6000-word Warren gushathon that deemed Hillary to be ripe for the taking. Hillary seems to be a lock for the nomination, but “inevitable candidates have a way of becoming distinctly evitable….Clinton-era nostalgia is always a news cycle away from curdling into Clinton fatigue. Sometimes, all it takes is a single issue and a fresh face to bring the bad memories flooding back.” And is there a fresh face on the horizon? “As it happens, there is precisely such a person. Her name is Elizabeth Warren.”
Never mind that Warren has already signed a letter endorsing Hillary’s likely bid, that Warren hasn’t visited a single early primary state, and that Warren has reportedly told donors she won’t run in ’16. None of that stuff mattered to the buzz manufacturers, not on a slow news Monday.
Seemingly within minutes of the New Republic posting, the Warren boomlet was headlining on The Huffington Post (bright shiny objects generate web traffic) and sending tingles up the legs of bloggers hither and yon. The Fix, a blog at The Washington Post, sounded like the New Republic on steroids: “Quick, name someone who would have a realistic chance of beating out Hillary Clinton for the 2016 presidential nomination. Martin O’Malley? Nope. Joe Biden? Maybe but probably not. Howard Dean. No way. There’s only one answer to that question that makes even a little sense. And that answer is Elizabeth Warren.”
This stuff went on for days, capped by a puff-piece column in the Boston Globe. “Warren and various representatives insist she isn’t running for president. But denials won’t stop the pundits,” wrote the Globe pundit, who refused to be stopped. Such was the closed loop of circular speculation.
But what everybody seemed to overlook was one passage buried deep within the New Republic opus: “A Clinton-Warren matchup would have all sorts of consequences, none of them especially heartwarming. The most immediate is that Warren would probably lose.” True that. Just look at the Democratic poll numbers. The latest survey of likely New Hampshire primary voters (yes, they’re being polled already) says that 64 percent support Hillary. Warren’s percentage share: six.
Elsewhere, a YouGov/Huffington Post survey, conducted this month, finds that 82 percent of Democrats would definitely or possibly vote for Hillary in a ’16 primary; only 47 percent say that about Warren . And even though Warren boosters say that Hillary is too close to the fat cats and thus is vulnerable on her left flank, only 34 percent of Democrats perceive Hillary as “too accommodating to Wall Street and big banks.”
Granted, these are early polls, arguably analogous to 2005 surveys that showed Hillary running rings around freshman Sen. Barack Obama. But Obama was atypical. What usually happens, in contemporary Democratic primaries, is that the insurgent upstart loses. Gary Hart lost to establishment choice Walter Mondale in 1984, Bill Bradley lost to establishment choice Al Gore in 2000, Howard Dean lost to the most traditionally credentialed candidate, John Kerry, in 2004.
And what does Warren say about all this? What’s her take on the buzz? Is she paying attention?
“I am not,” she told reporters last Friday, when they buzzed her.
A reporter asked if that was really really true. She repeated, “I am not.”
Under no circumstances? Again she repeated, “I am not.”
Oh well. Looks like she’s no fun at all. The 2016 clock is ticking, the buzzosphere is bored and bereft…but wait – former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer sounds like maybe he’s running! He says “there’s around 100 counties in Iowa, and on my bucket list is to try to and make it to all the counties in Iowa someday.” A prairie populist! Who likes to wear a string tie!
Hail the new bright shiny object!
Speaking of campaign politics, I’m interviewing Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, the authors of Double Down: Game Change 2012, at the Free Library of Philadelphia. 7:30 p.m tonight. Free event in the auditorium. Brave the rain.
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