This didn’t occur to me yesterday when I wrote about Warren’s odd fixation on slamming Bloomberg instead of the guy who’s running away with the race. But there may be something to it. Watch, then read on.
James Carville: “Elizabeth Warren hates Michael Bloomberg more than she wants to win.” pic.twitter.com/INiabOaX3E
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) February 26, 2020
I think she’s focused on Bloomy for three reasons. He’s a target of opportunity first and foremost, an irresistible villain for a populist prone to railing about billionaires. You can see how much she relishes coming after him in their exchanges about NDAs. She’s also likely resigned to the fact that the race is now unwinnable for her, in which case it’d be foolish for her to futilely attack her good friend, the frontrunner. There may be a VP slot in it for her if she plays nice. Plus, there’s still a remote chance that Bernie and some centrist candidate will end up in a long war to the convention with neither one amassing a commanding plurality of delegates, at which point party brokers might turn to Warren herself as a compromise. In order to be viable for that, she needs some goodwill from Berniebros.
But now here’s Carville with a fourth theory. Given the weird Trump-ish cult dynamic in Sanders’s core support, what happens if she goes all-in on attacking him and ends up with Bernie fans holding a grudge? They’ll be looking for scapegoats if he loses the election this fall; anyone who criticized him during the primary will be a natural choice, especially the ambitious “friend” who couldn’t resist knifing him long after her own chances at the nomination had withered. Credible primary challenges are by no means a hypothetical in Warren’s home state of Massachusetts: Ed Markey, the incumbent, is busy at this very moment fending off one from Joe Kennedy. Meanwhile, AOC announced just a few days ago that she’s launching a PAC aimed at funding progressive primary challenges to House Democrats in certain districts.
Warren has spent the entire campaign gently distinguishing her brand of leftism from Bernie’s socialism, believing that it would make her acceptable to moderates in the national Democratic electorate in a way that Sanders isn’t. But that’s a double-edged sword, as it also invites Sanders-style progressives to declare her not quite left-wing enough for their tastes. Democrats have a near-lock on Senate seats in deep-blue Massachusetts too, which means the political risk of knocking off an incumbent in a primary is low. Warren may be looking a few years down the road, imagining that the party continues to drift leftward — especially if Bernie becomes president, proving that radical leftism is electable — and seeing herself ripe for a revenge operation by the AOC brigades. Don’t forget that one of the biggest young stars in the Dems’ freshman class in the House is Ayanna Pressley, a member of the “Squad” who also happens to be from Massachusetts. Right, right, Pressley is backing Warren for president, which makes the prospect of a Senate primary by her less likely. But it’d be easy enough for Pressley to steer left over the next few years and pronounce Warren no longer the best option for Senate in her home state.
The risk of all this is low. Even if Warren hit Sanders hard now, she’d have plenty of time later this year and as a senator over the next three years to re-ingratiate herself to the left. But if fringe leftism is ascendant within the party and the Bernie cult becomes a force in keeping Democrats in line with the new party orthodoxy, no Democrat in Congress will be completely safe from primaries. For Warren, it may be a simple matter at this point of cutting her losses, not wanting to taunt the winning army after they’ve already overrun her position. Better to surrender and try to make nice. Or, better yet, to show them you’re an ally by launching an attack on their behalf on a mutual enemy, Mike Bloomberg.
But if you don’t like that theory, here’s an out-of-the-box one from Jonathan Last.
So here’s my question: Is Elizabeth Warren waging a campaign for VP so craven that even Mike Pence is embarrassed for her? I mean, that seems like the obvious explanation.
But there’s another possibility.
What if by staying in the race and hugging Bernie so tight that he’s going to need a restraining order, Warren is actually holding his numbers down? What if she’s denying him the extra 6 or 8 points he needs to really break out from the pack?
What if Elizabeth Warren is actually the real hero of the #NeverBernie resistance!
That would fit with the theory that she’s after a brokered convention where she can emerge as the compromise choice. Essentially, she’s going to try to match the “muddle in the middle” with a minor muddle on the left, in which Bernie can’t quite gain the altitude he needs to put the race away because Warren keeps siphoning off a small but critical number of would-be Sanders supporters. And/or, by taking out Bloomberg now, she’ll enable a Biden surge in the center that guarantees a long race with Sanders in which no one wins a majority before Milwaukee, also raising the odds of a brokered convention. I don’t quite buy that this is her strategy since fourth-place finishes won’t generate the sort of fundraising she needs for a long run and over time her own supporters would begin switching to Bernie for the simple reason that he’s the lone remaining viable progressive. But at this point, it’s anyone’s guess what Warren thinks she’s accomplishing by hammering Bloomberg relentlessly.
Honestly? I think she just enjoys it. Her chance of winning went out the window weeks, or even months, ago. Now she’s just having fun out there, hoping to nuke the plutocrat and make a mark on the race before she goes.
Even so, it’s strangely irksome watching her duck Bernie in much the same way it was annoying watching Ted Cruz go easy on Trump during the pre-primary stage in 2015. I understand why he did it then just as I understand (sort of) why she hasn’t nuked Sanders now, but it’s hard to respect a politician who won’t throw a punch at a competitor who deserves punching even if there’s some convoluted self-interested strategic reason for holding off. It was much more embarrassing in Cruz’s case because of how nasty Trump would eventually become towards his wife and his father; there’s a reason why that pitiful photo of him phone-banking at a Trump campaign office after Trump had won the nomination is still thrown at him to this day. But Cruz *did* eventually come hard at Trump, once he realized in the weeks before the Iowa caucus that Trump wasn’t going to collapse and shed his populist support, and he famously declined to endorse him at the Republican convention.
Warren has never come hard at Bernie and almost certainly never will. The closest she came was that mysterious leak about Sanders telling her in 2018 that a woman couldn’t beat Trump, followed by their tense exchange onstage about it after a Democratic debate, and then … pretty much nothing after that apart from some mumbling assurances from Warren occasionally that she’d be better at “fixing” stuff than Sanders is or whatever. She’s never really tried to take him out. Imagine being an Elizabeth Warren voter — or, worse, donor — and having to stomach that reality as her campaign approaches the brink. Forced to choose between you and Bernie, she chose Bernie. And now here’s what you, and she, get:
Bernie Sanders is spending the last two days South Carolina’s contest in Warren’s home state—trying to destroy her presidential campaign once and for all. As @TheRickWilson said yesterday, you can feed the gator fried chicken if you want, but it will still eat you in the end. https://t.co/tyHH9ZeOyf
— Joe Scarborough (@JoeNBC) February 26, 2020
Her fans will probably forgive her, though. The key difference between Warren and Cruz is that she and Bernie are ideological twins whereas Cruz and Trump very much were not. It’s hard to draw a strong contrast between yourself and someone with whom you agree on virtually everything.
Here’s a weird exchange last night between her and the perpetually weird Chris Matthews, who can’t understand why we shouldn’t take Mike Bloomberg’s word for it that he told a pregnant woman employee to kill her baby. Why would Bloomberg lie, he wonders? Uh, what? Bear in mind, there are other former Bloomberg employees on record as saying they heard the exchange firsthand themselves.
Chris Matthews asks Elizabeth Warren why she believes a female employee who sued Mike Bloomberg for telling her “kill it” when she was pregnant over Bloomberg.
“You believe he’s lying? …Why would he lie? Just to protect himself? …You’re confident of your accusation?” pic.twitter.com/hVkkQhhXtz
— Justin Baragona (@justinbaragona) February 26, 2020