First of all, despite the martyr act, no one has the power to silence Senator Elizabeth Warren. And that’s a good thing. On the other hand, the impulse to silence Warren is completely rational, and it has nothing to do with her gender, ancestry, or ideology. It has everything to do with her sanctimonious lecturing, habitual dishonesty, and disregard for norms. She’s been a bully her entire career.
But when Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell invoked Rule 19, which prohibits all members from taking to the floor and “directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator,” I assumed it was a failure in the optics department (not to mention an arbitrary, speech-inhibiting rule that should not be used, but that’s another story).
Shutting down a female senator while she’s reading a letter from civil-rights icon Coretta Scott King is a bit on the nose, even for the Republican party. McConnell mansplained: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” The incident was transformed into Twitter hashtags #LetLizSpeak and the less catchy #ShePersisted. Both went viral, instilling millions of Democrats with a new sense of purpose. Hashtags are greater than voting.
It seemed pretty obvious to me that the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions as attorney general was likely a done deal. So it was unlikely any persuadable voter would have even heard about Warren’s grandstanding if it weren’t for the kerfuffle. If it were up to me, however, I’d let Warren speak whenever she wants, for as long as she wants, on any stage she demands — ceding my time, if necessary. The more she speaks, the better for conservatives.
As the Washington Post points out, however, McConnell probably gave Warren’s 2020 presidential aspirations a huge “in-kind contribution” by forcing her to follow rules of decorum. It’s possible, I suppose, that the GOP is playing the same 3-D chess game mastered by President Donald Trump. Maybe shutting down Warren was a surreptitious means of making her the de facto voice of the Democratic party and #TheResistance (formerly known as “unprecedented obstructionism”). Maybe it was just good luck.
Warren as the voice of the Left might be the best-case scenario for Republicans. For one thing, she is no Barack Obama on the charisma front. For another, she saves conservatives the trouble of going after socialist straw men. They’ll have a real one.
Still, there’s one potential hitch in the plan. Republicans, like everyone else, tend to assume that politicians they loathe will be equally loathed by most of the electorate. Be cautious of what you ask for. You’ll no doubt remember how many liberal pundits acted like the prospect of Senator Marco Rubio or Senator Ted Cruz as president was scarier than the prospect of Trump when they thought Trump had no chance in a general election.
I’d let Warren speak whenever she wants, for as long as she wants, on any stage she demands — ceding my time, if necessary.
The real question is: Would Warren’s left-wing populism play on the electoral map Trump has rejiggered? Is her protectionist trade rhetoric enough to win over white working-class voters in Pennsylvania coal country, even though she rails against fossil fuels and cheap energy? Would a lawyer who built a political career growing bureaucracies and pushing regulatory burdens on Americans be popular with rural workers in Ohio? Is it possible that someone who believes Obamacare didn’t exert enough government control over the health-care system will run strong in a general-election campaign in suburban Indiana? Moreover, can a Northeasterner with extreme social views bring working-class Missourians home to Democrats? Liberals from Massachusetts, after all, are 0–3 over the past 50 years. And Warren is further left than any of them — by a mile.
I ask a lot of questions because 2016 taught me that the American electorate is volatile and angry, and that coastal elites should never make assumptions about its temperament. Still, it’s fair to say at this point — and a lot can change under Trump’s leadership — that the answer to most of these questions seems to be “unlikely.”
The fuss over “silencing” Warren also reminds us that Democrats will, as they did with Hillary Clinton, rely heavily on the identity politics that have failed them for six years, if not longer. CNN, for example, says, “For Elizabeth Warren’s supporters, the vote leading to #LetLizSpeak was a textbook case of males silencing a woman.”
Few things are more unintellectual, irrational, or un-American than demanding that people comport their political worldviews to their skin color, sex, or ethnicity. And if a Warren candidacy — or anyone else’s — ensures that Democrats will spend another four years accusing half the country of being moral troglodytes while waiting for demographics to win them elections, Republicans should support their efforts.