The test Elizabeth Warren needs

The test Elizabeth Warren needs
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“The only people on this stage who have won every single election that they’ve been in are the women: Amy and me,” Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenDemocrats redefine center as theirs collapses Massachusetts Democrats question deployment of Border Patrol teams to sanctuary cities Speculation swirls around whether Bloomberg will make Las Vegas debate stage MORE (D-Mass.) said during the Democratic debate in Des Moines on Tuesday.  

It was a good line. It made the news and social media highlights. It also is a fact that worries me about Warren. 

Every elected president of the last half-century has been a loser. From Richard Nixon to Barack Obama, all of those professional politicians lost a political campaign before making it to the White House. Nixon and Ronald Reagan lost big promising bids for the presidency itself. Obama and George W. Bush lost congressional races. Jimmy Carter lost his first campaign for Georgia governor, and Bill Clinton was defeated for Congress and for reelection as Arkansas governor before winning that job back. George H.W. Bush lost two U.S. Senate races and his first primary campaign for president. They all lost, but that wasn’t the end of the story. 


Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump administration eyes proposal to block jet engine sales to China: report Trump takes track to open Daytona 500 Brazile 'extremely dismayed' by Bloomberg record MORE was a first-time candidate in 2016, so he never suffered the pain of losing a political race. However, Trump had suffered the indignity of a major public defeat before entering politics. In the early 1990s, Trump faced a debt crisis that nearly felled him and reports of his huge losses were all over the New York papers. The New York Daily News branded him the “Biggest Loser.” Banks who lent him money took control of his major assets.

He was nearly finished. 

Love him, hate him, trust him or despise him, the future president rose from the ashes and the edge of ruin to make it all the way back up the ladder of success to the White House. 

Winning a lot can make you cocky. Losing is one of those things “they” talk about that either kills you or makes you stronger. Candidates who have faced a previous loss often are better the next time. They tend to be hungrier, savvier and have something to prove. 

Warren has something to prove. 


When the Massachusetts senator was asked how she plans to pay for her “Medicare for All” proposal, she flubbed the answer. Even a revised stair-step plan didn’t help. Horses began wandering out of her political corral and her poll numbers only recently have settled down. 

Warren’s latest fundraising numbers were down from the previous quarter. News organizations ran stories about what’s wrong. She needed to turn things around, and her campaign seems to be making an effort to do just that. 

Former rival Julian Castro endorsed her. Then she debuted a bankruptcy reform plan that shined a light on her fundamental policy values. Warren fought for consumer protection from the excesses of big banks long before most voters knew Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDemocrats redefine center as theirs collapses Speculation swirls around whether Bloomberg will make Las Vegas debate stage Pelosi: 'I'm not counting Joe Biden out' MORE’ (I-Vt.) name. Who was on the other side in those fights? Former vice president Joe BidenJoe BidenDemocrats redefine center as theirs collapses Speculation swirls around whether Bloomberg will make Las Vegas debate stage Pelosi: 'I'm not counting Joe Biden out' MORE

In the past few days, Warren has gone on the offensive against Sanders, confirming a leaked version of a private conversation between the two of them in which Sanders is accused of saying a woman couldn’t win the White House. He vehemently denied the accusation, but the question made it onto the debate stage. And now voters are thinking about the gender implications of electing a woman. 

If Elizabeth Warren is successful at battling back, she will be ready for the coming contest against Donald Trump. If she can’t, she shouldn’t be the Democratic nominee. Trump knows the pain of public defeat and, it seems, will do anything to avoid it. The Democratic nominee needs to viscerally loath losing, too, and possess the confidence that comes from battling back from the brink.

Warren had a good line at the debate, but losing is not a scarlet letter in the race for the White House. Something separates recent presidents from all the other politicians who aspired to the job. The true skill they have in common is that, after getting knocked down, they have the ability to get back up and fight their way to the victory podium. 

We’ll soon know if Elizabeth Warren has that skill, too. 

Jamal Simmons is a Democratic strategist who has worked for the Clinton White House, Congress and the Clinton, Gore and Obama presidential campaigns. He is a liberal host for The Hill’s Hill.TV video division. Follow him on Twitter @JamalSimmons.