Dems mull whether Warren is the one to take on Trump

Can Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenAnother recession could hit US in 2019, says credit union association chief Warren says vote should be delayed, asks what Kavanaugh is hiding Kavanaugh hires attorney amid sexual assault allegations: report MORE win back blue-collar Democrats from President TrumpDonald John TrumpOver 100 lawmakers consistently voted against chemical safeguards: study CNN's Anderson Cooper unloads on Trump Jr. for spreading 'idiotic' conspiracy theories about him Cohn: Jamie Dimon would be 'phenomenal' president MORE in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania?

It’s a question many Democrats are pondering as Warren — one of the leading contenders for her party’s presidential nomination, if she chooses to run in 2020 — goes back and forth with the president over immigration and other issues.

ADVERTISEMENT

Warren (D-Mass.) has shown an ability to rally and excite progressives, she’s a proven fundraiser and she has policy bona fides from her work in the Senate.

Yet there are creeping doubts among some Democrats that she’s the best candidate to take on Trump.

Some worry the former Harvard professor will have a tough time winning back the Rust Belt centrists and independents who abandoned Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump to declassify controversial text messages, documents related to Russia probe Hypocrisy in Kavanaugh case enough to set off alarms in DC Clinton: Hard to ignore 'racial subtext of virtually everything Trump says' MORE and Democrats for Trump.

“I just can’t see a blue-collar, Rust Belt guy voting for her,” said one Democratic strategist who has worked on presidential campaigns. “I think the party needs to be realistic about that.”

Some Democrats almost certainly remain shellshocked from the last election after Trump’s surprise win. He became the first Republican to win the states of Pennsylvania and Michigan in a presidential election since 1988 and the first Republican to win Wisconsin since President Reagan in 1984.

If Democrats don’t retake those states in 2020, their chances of winning the Electoral College will fall.

Teeth-gnashing over who is best-positioned to take on Trump, as a result, is already taking place ahead of the midterm elections.

Warren’s gender and her political identity as a voice on the left are both likely to be issues for primary voters sizing up Democratic candidates in potential head-to-head matchups with Trump. Would she be stronger than former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenKavanaugh hires attorney amid sexual assault allegations: report Biden: Delay Kavanaugh vote to give accuser a fair, respectful hearing Bidens hint at taking on Trump: We want to 'pick a fight' with bullies MORE? What about Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersProtecting democracy requires action from all of us Kavanaugh hires attorney amid sexual assault allegations: report Amazon probes allegations of employees leaking data for bribes: report MORE (I-Vt.)? Does the party need the face of a new political generation, such as Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisSenate Dems sue Archives to try to force release of Kavanaugh documents The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh confirmation in sudden turmoil Judd Gregg: The collapse of the Senate MORE (Calif.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSenate Dems sue Archives to try to force release of Kavanaugh documents Judd Gregg: The collapse of the Senate Dems engage in last-ditch effort to block Kavanaugh MORE (N.J.) or Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandEx-GOP donor urges support for Dems in midterms: 'Democracy is at stake' Overnight Energy: Warren bill would force companies to disclose climate impacts | Green group backs Gillum in Florida gov race | Feds to open refuge near former nuke site Former Virginia Gov. McAuliffe to visit Iowa, fueling 2020 speculation MORE (N.Y.)?

Warren has her advocates, who say the senator’s anti-corporate economic message will resonate with the types of voters who left the party for Trump.

Jesse Ferguson, who served as a spokesman for Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, said Warren “has a powerful economic message that resonates everywhere.”

Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said Warren is the perfect candidate to oppose Trump because she “has the ability to go straight at him on his economic policies.”

She also argued that Trump’s repeated attacks on Warren suggest the White House sees her as a threat.

“I think this man understands his brand very well and understands his populist appeal very, very well, and he realizes how threatening to him she is on his brand,” Lake said. 

Warren’s office declined to comment for this story.

Trump mocked Warren over her Native American heritage twice last week, once on Twitter but also at a campaign-style rally.

“Let’s say I’m debating Pocahontas. You know those little [DNA] kits they sell on television for two dollars? … I’m going to get one of those little kits and in the middle of the debate when she proclaims that she’s of Indian heritage, because her mother says she has high cheekbones,” Trump said to the cheering crowd in Montana.

“We will take that little kit … but we have to do it gently because we are in the ‘Me Too’ generation,” Trump said, adding that he would donate $1 million to Warren’s favorite charity if she took the DNA test. “I have a feeling she will say no.”

Warren immediately hit Trump back on Twitter.

“Hey, @realDonaldTrump: While you obsess over my genes, your Admin is conducting DNA tests on little kids because you ripped them from their mamas & you are too incompetent to reunite them in time to meet a court order. Maybe you should focus on fixing the lives you’re destroying,” she wrote.

Warren called Trump a bully during an event outside Boston over the weekend.

“He tries to bully me in order to shut me up,” Warren said, according to the Boston Herald. “I seem to be in his head.”

Warren is a favorite of liberals and could be well-positioned to win her party’s nomination given the ascent of the liberal wing.

“She has a very strong base of support and is one of the few figures on the left who has a chance at winning over a broader range of the party,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University.

He said her focus on consumers and the middle class is the kind of rhetoric that resonated with Sanders supporters in 2016.

Zelizer said the question, if she wins the nomination, is whether she “can withstand what will certainly be a brutal general election campaign against the master attacker.”

Warren’s counterattacks on Trump could be read as sending the message to prospective Democratic primary voters that she’s more than up to that task.

Another factor for Warren is whether some segments of the Democratic electorate see her as too liberal to defeat Trump.

Basil Smikle, a Democratic strategist who served as the executive director of the New York state Democratic Party, said he’s not sure Warren could woo independents.

“Democrats are certainly motivated on issues like [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] separating children and the potential for the Supreme Court to reverse Roe v. Wade, but are independents that upset?” said Smikle, who worked for Clinton. “They may not like Trump’s tactics, but they may, to some extent, like the ultimate outcome if it helps to stem the tide on undocumented workers.”

But Lake argues that Warren would strike directly at independents because of her populist approach.

“In some ways, she’s Trump’s worst nightmare for independents,” she said. “She can run rings around him.”