Opinion by: Krystal Ball
A new Iowa poll is out and it confirms the fundamental direction of the presidential race. Democrats are on track to nominate Elizabeth Warren for president and lose to Donald Trump.
So, here’s the poll. It’s a big one from the Des Moines register of likely Iowa caucus goers and it has Warren claiming the lead over Biden and Sanders slipping to 3rd place at 11%.
Now it’s one poll and as you all know, I think the media dismisses and vastly underestimates Sanders chances. Other polls have found him in good position in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and California, but there are other trends here which are undeniable.
First, as the race narrows to a top 3 with Kamala, Booker, Beto, Buttigieg and others falling away, Warren will be the primary beneficiary. All of those candidates hold appeal to affluent white liberals and that vote, let’s call it the Rachel Maddow vote, is rapidly coalescing around Elizabeth Warren.
Now, this trend is reinforced by the glowing media coverage of Warren. Of course, the media consistently reflects the tastes and preferences of affluent white liberals so no surprise there.
Just consider the number of non-ironic takes on the incredible brilliance of Warren’s selfie line. It’s not hard to imagine this white liberal affection carrying Warren to wins in the overwhelmingly white states of both Iowa and New Hampshire. And it’s not hard to imagine those wins resulting in a kind of momentum that leads enough voters of color to come over to Warren for her to outright win the nomination.
Now in another cycle, I would have been thrilled by a potential Warren nomination. For one of the more progressive members of the senate to be our party’s standard bearer would have seemed to be a wonderful thing.
In 2015 I begged Warren to run and to challenge Hillary. Warren was an outsider populist warrior who had yet to have her fire dimmed by the ways of Washington.
But now, if I’m being honest, the thought of warren as our nominee fills me with dread. Her courting of the dem establishment has made me skeptical that she’d really break the kneecaps required to bring the “Big structural change” she’s fond of talking about.
But what really terrifies me is that Warren is likely to lose to Trump. And if Warren loses to Trump not only will we have the utter catastrophe of 4 more years of national destruction, the establishment and the media will all blame us progressives for the loss. They will say we wanted to go too far too fast. That we would have wiped the floor with Trump if only we had run Amy Klobuchar or Steve Bullock instead of AOC senior.
And then it will be another generation before we have a chance to run a real progressive for president again. If the country even survives that long.
But the truth is, the reason Warren is likely to lose has nothing to do with ideology and everything to do with culture. To put it quite simply, Warren is a wine track candidate. As much as she wants to run as the down home Oklahoma girl, she hasn’t been that betsy for a long time.
Be honest, do you really believe that is the candidate who can beat Trump? This is what pundits consistently fail to understand.
Voters do not choose candidates because of their ideological fit. They choose them because of their cultural fit. It’s no accident that the first to fully fall for Warren were the post-grad types. The folks who have successfully ascended the meritocracy and jumped through all the collegiate hoops.
They fundamentally believe in the system because it’s worked for them. They want to help working and lower class Americans, sure, but they don’t actually trust them. “I’ve got a plan for that” is like a magical elixir to this group.
It says the experts have been consulted, the white paper has been drafted. We, the ascenders of the meritocracy will decide what is to be done about these poor struggling denizens of the working class. You can close your eyes and just imagine “I’ve got a plan for that” emblazoned on t-shirts for Al Gore or John Kerry or certainly Hillary Clinton. That fact alone should strike terror in your heart.
There’s a reason why Biden and Bernie tend to appeal to working class voters and have broad overlap between their coalitions in spite of their ideological distance. Neither has taken an overly intellectual approach. Both make an appeal to emotion.
Biden to nostalgia and Bernie to righteous anger. There’s a reason why Warren and Buttigieg have broad overlap between their coalitions in spite of having very different ideologies.
Both have a pitch centered specifically around essentially how smart and special they personally are. Behold my resume. Behold my plan. This appeal to white papers, intellect, and resume items frequently wins the day in the peculiar battlefield that is the democratic primary.
But it’s a catastrophe come November. Especially against the master of emotional lizard brain appeals, Donald Trump. After all, just consider the numbers, a winning candidate will be able to motivate new working class voters of color or flip Obama/Trump voters. Preferably some of both. There is no indication in Warren’s base of support that she’s particularly likely to do either.
And then there’s Pocahontas. Is it a culturally acceptable nickname? No it definitely is not. Is it brutally effective? Yes it is.
Because what it really signals as my friend Saagar has pointed out is that Warren is fake. That she says she’s the beer drinking Oklahoma girl when all of the cultural signaling is Harvard professor.
That she says she’s going to really change things but still wraps herself in the language of capitalism, promises the establishment that she’s a “Team player” and secretly courts Hillary Clinton. She says she’s different but she plays the same Washington political games as all the rest.
Now, none of this is set in stone. Trends can change rapidly. With this guy as president you simply have no idea what the week, let alone the year, might bring.
But this is me pulling the fire alarm. Dems have repeatedly told pollsters that their number one priority is to beat Trump and yet here we are, rapidly moving towards nominating exactly the type of candidate who is consistently rejected by voters. If you want to win, turn away from the siren song of the Ivy League and place your trust in the multi-racial working class.