The unsurprising news that Senator Elizabeth Warren is dropping out of the 2020 presidential race invites a lot of questions. How did Warren, flush with cash from a wildly successful grassroots-fundraising operation and atop all the national polls in mid October, fail to translate that lead into actual votes? Why didn’t her string of successful debate performances make a difference? And most importantly, why is her very like-minded socialist colleague, Senator Bernie Sanders, still standing while she’s finished?
Unlike others who’ve failed in their bid for the nomination this cycle — Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris, Julián Castro, Cory Booker — Warren was not undone by a lack of funds, campaign infrastructure, social-media following, or work ethic. She had all of those things, plus a campaign team stocked with high-level talent from past Clinton and Obama campaigns, yet she lost anyway.
And in the end, she has no one to blame but herself.
It is telling that voters rarely question the authenticity or sincerity of the three people still standing in the race for the White House — Sanders, former vice president Joe Biden, and President Trump. Many people loathe what Trump says or does, but they still see him as someone who acts on his own sincere impulses. Sanders’s conviction is so sincere that he’s been able to treat his “fifty years of advocating revolutionary socialism” as a selling point, rather than an obstacle to be overcome. And Biden, whose resurgence over the past week was one of the most shocking turnarounds in recent political history, may be discounted by conservatives and progressives alike, but he’s certainly not regarded as a phony.
In my book making the ideological case against a Warren presidency, I accepted at face value that she is a real progressive. Whatever that term means, I am not convinced that Elizabeth Warren is not it. Her advocacy for extreme, thoughtless environmental policies strikes me as both misguided and sincere. Her disdain for our nation’s financial institutions has been fervent and consistent for over a decade. Her wide array of spending initiatives and socially radical proposals — Medicare for All, universal pre-K, free college, and student-loan forgiveness — were backed by policy papers, PowerPoint presentations, and town-hall lectures. She is wrong on every one of those issues, but there is no evidence that people rejected her candidacy because of her positions. Indeed, Sanders’s platform includes many of the same positions as well as ones even more extreme, and it hasn’t been fatal to his campaign so far.
Warren fell apart not because of her agenda but because her utter dishonesty about her personal life eroded her credibility as policy wonk. Her decision to double-down when called on lying about her Native American ancestry, her debunked allegation that she’d been fired from a school job for being pregnant, and her false claims that her kids had never attended private schools all shattered her persona as a thought leader and ideologue. Her personal opportunism, as well, made it easier to argue that her platform was opportunistic. So when voters got to pick between Sanders’s socialism and Warren’s, the choice became very easy.
Warren’s embarrassing performance in her home-state primary — third place, behind Biden and Sanders — suggested that the public airing of her iniquities had even taken its toll with her own constituents. The relative popularity of Medicare for All and the Green New Deal in select far-left enclaves of Massachusetts did not boost her, despite her convictions on those issues and her reasonably articulate (if economically and logically lackluster) advocacy for them. Warren was able to rise to the top of the field, even when it had more talented candidates still in it, with her entire policy portfolio on the table. But once she became the most visible candidate, her penchant for lying about herself became impossible to ignore.
So here we are. Warren will stick around in the public square longer, no doubt, anxious to see which Democratic candidate will give her the most in exchange for an endorsement. She maintains a small, enthusiastic base of supporters, and as we saw on the debate stage throughout the race, she doesn’t fear the attack-dog role. Her backing still holds value for Biden and Sanders. But her dishonesty has cost her a chance to be president, and that should be a lesson to all who would seek the same office.