This morning, the New York Times has a piece on establishment Democrats fretting about the primary and Biden’s weaknesses, in particular. They’re all looking for a centrist savior to sweep in and save the party. It’s not going to happen.
The establishment needs to recognize the deep dissatisfaction with the state of the nation. I haven’t decided who I’ll support in the Democratic primary for president but I believe we have a host of candidates better than the current president. I’ll almost certainly support the nominee. But I do believe the establishment Democrats panicking over the prospect of an Elizabeth Warren nomination miss some important points about the current mood of the country and her campaign.
Warren’s message is one of change at a time when voters are still looking for a successful change agent. They elected Barack Obama on his promise of Hope and Change but really got a status quo response to the economic crisis that devastated so many middle class families. They elected Trump because he promised to take on the establishment and drain the swamp but instead proved to be the biggest swamp monster of all. Warren understands that a lot of those voters still want something different and don’t believe a return to pre-Trump normality will improve their lives.
Democrats, including me at times, get too hung up on the specifics of Warren’s plans. They need to look at the broader message. Like Trump, she’s taking on the establishment in Washington, but she’s also taking on the establishment in corporate America, especially the big banks and technology monopolies. People still believe the system is rigged against them and Democrats underestimate the anger, fear and suspicion that Americans feel toward the new giants like Facebook.
Warren’s attack on the social media giant is smart. People fear the power of the new information and communication technology. Last weekend, after a conversation with friends about our kids’ braces, advertisements for dental procedures started showing up in my Facebook feed even though our interaction was in person and not online. I shared that on Facebook and the post got a huge response and found a point of agreement from both friends who are big Democrats as well as those who believe in Trump. In calling out Zuckerberg and Facebook, she’s tapping into an anger and resentment that crosses party lines.
Her campaign is more like Trump in 2016 than Obama in 2008. Obama offered a vague notion of making things better after George Bush and company crashed the economy and left us with endless wars. Trump identified villains who were using their positions to benefit themselves and their friends and he promised to beat them if he were elected. Warren has identified the same villains but added a few more, including Trump and his cronies. You can sense her anger and righteous indignation.
Her message may well appeal to Obama voters who supported Trump because of his promise of change or those who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Clinton because of everything from the Clinton Foundation to her $100,000 speeches. Democrats should not underestimate the anger and resentment of a middle class that has still not fully recovered, and probably never will, from a recession that took much of their wealth while the rich have not only recovered but prospered.
Warren certainly has some weaknesses. She should loosen up on her commitment to Medicare for All. It’s an argument that will devolve into whether or not she is going to take insurance away from Americans who are happy with their plans for something that is ill-defined and uncertain. If the presidential race becomes dominated by that debate, she’ll likely lose.
Still, Warren has so far run the best campaign of the primary crowd. She’s stayed on message. She’s tapped into powerful emotions and she’s identified the good guys and bad guys. By all accounts, she’s built a powerful operation in Iowa and a successful low-dollar fundraising program. There’s a good chance she’ll be the nominee. It’s not nearly as scary a prospect as many in the establishment believe. She certainly has weaknesses, but no more than Joe Biden; just very different ones.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >