Elizabeth Warren's last chance

Bernie Sanders is in the lead, but there are signs that Warren is prepared to survive and advance

Elizabeth Warren.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Scott Olson/Getty Images, Avector/iStock)

If Elizabeth Warren is going to make a move in the Democratic primaries, now is the time.

Warren, the Democratic senator from Massachusetts, has seemingly underperformed during the early Democratic primaries while Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has claimed frontrunner status — as well as the support of progressive voters who would otherwise comprise her natural base. With the South Carolina primary looming this weekend, and Super Tuesday contests across much of the nation next week, Warren's candidacy has reached its now-or-never phase.

There are signs that she's prepared to survive and advance.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

A national poll released Sunday — and taken after Warren's brash performance in last week's Democratic debate — showed her in second place behind Sanders. Her campaign reported at the same time that it raised $14 million since the New Hampshire primary. And Sanders' newfound frontrunner status has come with a cost: a sense of existential panic among members of the media, the Florida Democratic Party, and a seemingly unending parade of former Republican NeverTrumpers. Some voters are probably seeking an alternative at this point.

Given all those factors, Warren has a real chance to peak at the last possible moment, right before it's too late to save her campaign.

There are several reasons she deserves one more look from Democratic voters. Some are about substance. Some are about style and — yes — electability. And all involve comparing and contrasting her with Sanders.

First and most importantly, Warren is a progressive in a party clearly ready for a progressive nominee. On the policy front, at least, there isn't a whole lot that distinguishes Warren from Sanders. She backs Medicare-for-all, and has aggressive plans to eliminate the burden of college debt and affordable housing for most Americans. Democratic voters are showing, through their support of Sanders, a desire to expand America's safety net. Outside of Sanders, Warren is the candidate most ready and willing to pursue that agenda.

That might sound like Warren is Sanders-lite — and it's true that Warren simply doesn't carry a lot of the baggage that might drag Sanders down. She's never embraced the "Democratic socialist" label, and she doesn't — as far as I know — have Sanders' history of praising or equivocating about Communist dictators. While socialism doesn't seem to scare younger voters (and while some of the protests against Sanders may be insincere), it's terrifying to Baby Boomers. That matters on Election Day: Older voters tend to cast their ballots at a greater rate than their younger peers. "OK, boomer" all you want, but it is dangerous electoral business to ignore the preferences of the over-50 set.

Warren doesn't have to be the "un-Bernie" to deserve the Democratic nomination, however. She has done the work, and proven herself effective at one of the most vital parts of a president's job: governance. Sanders' record in the Senate is relatively paltry. But Warren arrived in Congress with a major achievement already under her belt: During the Obama administration, she proposed and helped establish the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency designed to protect the financial interests of "regular" Americans in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Thanks to hostility from Republicans in Congress, the bureau hasn't really lived up to its potential, but its very existence is a tangible achievement for Warren that Sanders doesn't possess.

There is no delicate way to deal with Warren's other big advantages over Sanders: She's younger, and she hasn't had a heart attack recently. Neither candidate is a spring chicken — she is 70, he is 78 — but Warren is nearly a decade younger. It is possible that Sanders will live to be 100, and be as sharp as a tack until the very end. But if you want your candidate to possess the longevity and stamina to endure a full term or two in one of the world's most-demanding jobs, Warren is certainly the safer option.

All these reasons aside, there is also something appealing about the prospect of seeing a woman — and especially a fearless woman like Warren — face off against President Trump this fall. Trump has many ugly features, but his misogyny stands out for its pure odiousness. It would be satisfying to see him on a debate stage with Warren, who would surely not mince words about his character.

Warren is not a perfect candidate. But for undecided progressives deciding between the two, the case can be made that she possesses most of Sanders' virtues while sharing relatively few of his flaws. She deserves a second look from Democratic voters. They might decide she's their first choice after all.

Want more essential commentary and analysis like this delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for The Week's "Today's best articles" newsletter here.

To continue reading this article...
Continue reading this article and get limited website access each month.
Get unlimited website access, exclusive newsletters plus much more.
Cancel or pause at any time.
Already a subscriber to The Week?
Not sure which email you used for your subscription? Contact us