Trump White House eyes Warren as potential 2020 foe

Trump White House eyes Warren as potential 2020 foe
© Greg Nash

The White House is keeping tabs on Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenTrump on 2020 Dems skipping AIPAC: 'I think they're anti-Jewish' The Hill's Morning Report — Washington readies for Mueller end game 2020 Dems avoid this year's AIPAC conference MORE (D-Mass.), viewing her as a potential challenger to President Trump in the 2020 election.

The Republican National Committee (RNC), in coordination with the White House, is assembling a research file on Warren and other possible 2020 opponents and frequently circulates memos critical of her to reporters.


White House aides, meanwhile, are closely following the senator’s criticism of the president and have aggressively hit back in the media.

When The Hill published Warren’s criticism last month of Trump’s decision to drop America’s largest non-nuclear bomb in Afghanistan, the White House press office quickly responded with a rebuttal — an unusual level of attention for a single senator.

“As somebody who is probably, in the hearts and minds of liberal activists, a leader of the party, that voice carries some weight, and we have to respond,” said one White House official who requested anonymity to describe internal thinking. “We don’t think ignoring her is the right approach.”

Trump revived one of his favorite — and most inflammatory — insults of Warren last month, calling her “Pocahontas” during a speech to the National Rifle Association, a reference to Warren’s claims about her Native American ancestry.

“I have a feeling that in the next election, you’re going to be swamped with candidates,” he said. “It may be Pocahontas, remember that.”

The 2020 presidential election could feature one of the largest Democratic fields in decades, with Warren seen by many as a likely candidate.

Warren has refused to engage in speculation about her plans.

Pressed during an April appearance on NBC’s “Today” about 2020, she said: “I am running, in 2018, for senator from Massachusetts. I am deeply blessed that the people of the commonwealth sent me to Washington to fight for them, and that’s what I’ll keep on doing.”

An adviser to Warren declined to comment for this story.

Trump allies are practically giddy at the prospect of facing the liberal firebrand senator, a former Harvard Law School professor whom they see as an easy target for a president who railed against political elites during his successful 2016 campaign.

“Elizabeth Warren is the perfect foil for the Trump administration,” said Sam Nunberg, a former Trump campaign aide. “I always thought she would be the new Rosie [O’Donnell]. Our base hates her; we think she’s a joke. She’s somebody to galvanize us. It was very smart for the president to bring her up at the NRA.”

The president’s supporters believe that if Warren were the Democratic nominee, she would struggle to win purple states that Trump carried in 2016 such as Florida and North Carolina.

White House aides say they are focused on governing but also believe that branding Warren as out of touch could neutralize her as a Trump challenger.

“Frankly speaking, having a pretty extreme, ideologically left-wing individual forming a role as the leader of the party is not the worst thing,” the official said. “The point is to engage her directly when she engages the White House because doing that does raise her profile [and] does increase the amount of attention this stuff receives.”

Warren isn’t the only potential presidential candidate being eyed by Trump’s team. Ohio Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownWarren, Klobuchar call on FTC to curtail use of non-compete clauses The Hill's Morning Report - Trump, Dems put manufacturing sector in 2020 spotlight Trump faces political risks in fight over GM plant MORE, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Connecticut Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphySanders: 'We must follow New Zealand's lead' and ban assault weapons The fear of colorectal cancer as a springboard for change Dems shift strategy for securing gun violence research funds MORE, all Democrats, appeared on an internal White House list published in February by the New York Post.

Aides say the bulk of the campaign work is happening at the RNC.

Mike Reed — the party’s new research director — has experience dealing with Warren. The Massachusetts native served in the same role for the Senate GOP’s campaign arm in 2012, when Warren was elected to the Senate.

The 2020 race is a long ways off, but the activity is another sign of Trump’s reelection campaign being in full swing.

He has already staged three campaign-style rallies, and his campaign organization raked in $13.2 million in the first quarter of this year. Less than a month after taking office, Trump defended his love of the trail by telling reporters, “Life is a campaign.”

With no clear leader in the Democratic Party, the 67-year-old Warren has emerged as a vocal leader of the anti-Trump opposition — a role she relished as a surrogate for Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocratic Socialists of America endorses Sanders for president How to end the Electoral College and elect our next president by popular vote CNN town halls put network at center of Dem primary MORE in 2016.

She launched a scathing attack on Trump last week during a speech to the liberal women’s political group EMILY’s List.

“The way things are going, if the next three years and 261 days are like Donald’s first 100 days, I wonder if America will ever be ready for a male president again,” Warren said.

The fiery speech followed a massive $5.2 million fundraising haul in the first three months of 2017. Warren’s profile was raised further in February when Senate Republicans used an obscure rule to shut down a speech criticizing Trump’s attorney general pick, then-Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump says 'people will not stand' for Mueller report Jeff Sessions returns to Justice Department to retrieve Cabinet chair Rosenstein still working at DOJ despite plans to leave in mid-March MORE (R-Ala.).

Democrats say Trump’s approach could backfire.

“I think they underestimate her at their own peril,” said Democratic strategist Jim Manley. “They may think their juvenile jokes and slurs about Pocahontas are cute, but once they start debating the issues, she is going to slice them six ways from Sunday.”

Warren’s supporters say that by focusing on her Ivy League credentials, critics ignore an entire half of her resume.

She grew up in deep-red Oklahoma in a family that struggled financially after her father died of a heart attack, which she often cites when explaining her focus on working-class issues.

The Massachusetts senator has a 56 percent approval rating nationwide, according to a recent Morning Consult survey.

While Democrats see Warren as someone who can energize the liberal base and female voters, some believe she can reach blue-collar voters who backed Trump. The senator has made some forays into the Rust Belt, including a 2014 trip to West Virginia.

“She’s going to have a real chance to draw a contrast between the misplaced priorities of the Trump administration over the interests of the American people,” Manley said.