Politics & Policy

How Hillary Scares Off Elizabeth Warren

(Alex Wong/Getty)
Her team is famous for playing mean, and potential competitors are afraid to enter the ring.

It seems everyone on the activist left of the Democratic party wants Elizabeth Warren to challenge Hillary Clinton. The New York Working Families Party, born out of the infamous and disbanded ACORN empire, has endorsed her. A new YouGov poll paid for by Warren backers purports to show that once voters are familiar with the stances of both women, Warren will beat Hillary in both Iowa and New Hampshire.

Warren, who was elected to the Senate from Massachusetts only four years ago, has refused entreaties to run, although she always uses the present tense (“I am not running for president”), which gives her some wiggle room. After all, at age 65 she can’t wait forever if she wants to reach the White House.

The Huffington Post average of all polls shows Hillary leading Warren by a crushing 60 percent to 12 percent. But it’s not only these polls that might be keeping her out of the race. Recall that Barack Obama overcame a similar deficit and went on to win the nomination in 2008.

Warren’s reluctance probably has more to do with the reach and ruthlessness of Team Hillary. “Her command of the Democratic machinery, from fundraising to grass-roots organizing, is so extensive that almost everyone else is understandably intimidated about even testing their talents against her,” the Washington Post observed of Mrs. Clinton.

Obama strategist David Axelrod, who knows Warren well, says she is keeping the door open a sliver because doing so increases her ability to influence the Democratic party. “Hillary is probably as well-positioned within her own party as any open seat candidate has been in our lifetime,” Axelrod told radio host Hugh Hewitt.

One of the usually unspoken reasons that potential rivals are scared of running is that they know Team Hillary pulled its punches against Obama in 2008 — in large part because he was African American. When Bill Clinton compared Obama’s primary victory in South Carolina historically to those of Jesse Jackson in the same state, he was viciously attacked; for the rest of the campaign, he was relatively mute. “I think that they played the race card on me,” Clinton complained to WHYY Radio in Philadelphia in April 2008. “We now know, from memos from the campaign and everything, that they planned to do it all along.”

It’s fairly certain that Elizabeth Warren, if she ran, would not receive such a pass from Team Hillary, which is famous for playing both mean and creatively. In 2008, it saw many of its anti-Obama themes injected into the media mainstream via the Drudge Report. An investigation by Britain’s Daily Telegraph established that Clinton supporters, especially an ex-deputy attorney general in Pennsylvania, were “largely to blame for starting” the untruth that Obama had been born outside the U.S.

A ready-made army of liberal bloggers and surrogates would stand ready to belittle Warren’s lack of political experience and foreign-policy credentials.

And then there would be the character shots. Anti-big-business liberals would be reminded frequently that for all her populist rhetoric, Warren opposes a bill to audit the Federal Reserve and supports funding for the Export-Import Bank, a favorite of crony capitalists.

Then there is the “Fauxcahontas” scandal. In April 2012, the Boston Globe broke the news that while Warren never claimed American Indian heritage as an undergraduate or law-school student, she began doing so in her 30s as she sought jobs at highly competitive law schools such as Harvard.

The Association of American Law Schools requires law professors to answer ethnicity questions on its questionnaire. Only Warren can release a copy of her original questionnaire, and she has refused to do so. Back-channel Hillary surrogates would make hay out of that.

Then there is the scandal-in-waiting concerning her sleazy scholarship while a law professor. She co-authored a highly-publicized study in 2005 that claimed that 54.5 percent of all bankruptcies have “a medical cause” and that 46.2 percent have a “major medical cause,” telling interviewers that those findings demonstrated the need for national health care. In fact, the proportion of bankruptcies caused by catastrophic medical losses is more like 2 percent. Her numbers were inflated by including “uncontrolled gambling,” “alcohol or drug addiction,” “death in family,” and “birth/addition of new family member” as “a medical cause.” In addition, spending as little as $1,000 in unreimbursed medical expenses over the course of two years — hardly unusual for a family — was enough to get a bankruptcy classified as “a major medical cause” even when the debtor himself or herself did not list illness or injury as a cause of the bankruptcy. A number of scholars have criticized the study as intentionally misleading.

Nor was this the only blot on Warren’s scholarship. George Mason University law professor Todd Zywicki told Breitbart News in 2012:

Questions about the validity of Warren’s scholarly findings have haunted her since early in her career. Reviewing her first major scholarly work [her 1990 study on bankruptcy], a co-authored book, noted bankruptcy professor Philip Schuchman (now deceased) stated bluntly, “In my opinion, the authors have engaged in repeated instances of scientific misconduct.” Similar questions have continued to nag her scholarship throughout her career, especially her usage and handling of empirical data and the conclusions she draws from it.

All of the above, along with other opposition research, would provide endless fodder for Team Hillary.

Of course Hillary has her own electoral weaknesses as a candidate. “Is Mrs. Clinton really such a safe bet?” asked the less-than-awed Economist magazine this week, in a article titled, “Hillary Clinton’s Suffocating Presence.” They note the risks of handing the nomination to Hillary without her having to fight for it. “Democrats ought to worry at least a little about the possibility that Hillary Clinton has become the contemporary Democratic version of Bob Dole in 1996: an elder statesman, a presumed nominee, universally admired, and, when it really counted, insufficiently voted for.”

I take Elizabeth Warren at her word that she isn’t running for president. But both she and her party may come to regret that choice in two years’ time.

— John Fund is national-affairs correspondent for NRO.

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