Elizabeth Warren: Can she regain momentum?
Sen. Elizabeth Warren had a great summer, “slinging buzzy plans and climbing in the polls,” said Matt Flegenheimer in The New York Times, but it’s “not summer anymore.” A raft of new polls last week showed a dramatic collapse in national support for the Massachusetts senator, from an average high of around 27 percent in October, which made her the narrow front-runner, down to only 14 percent at the end of November, behind both Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. Biden’s and Sanders’ numbers are ticking up as Warren’s slide, but the clearest beneficiary is centrist Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who now leads the polls in both Iowa and New Hampshire. The explanation for Warren’s “free fall” is obvious, said Michael Cohen in The Boston Globe. Her embrace of Medicare for All badly backfired. After rivals and the press raised questions about the trillions that far-left health-care plan would cost, and its requirement that everyone surrender private health insurance, it became as popular with voters “as a porcupine at a balloon party.” Medicare for All defined Warren as a “big-government liberal,” which makes her a risky candidate for a party desperate to take down President Trump. It’s hard to see her coming back from this.
She won’t, said Becket Adams in WashingtonExaminer.com. Warren’s rise in the polls was powered by the perception that she was a rock-star policy wonk with “a plan for everything.” But at the first test of this proposition—health care—she failed miserably. First, she alienated moderates by embracing Medicare for All, said Saagar Enjeti in TheHill.com. When she finally unveiled her plan to pay for it, Warren unrealistically claimed she could raise $20.5 trillion purely by imposing massive new taxes on the superrich. Finally, in the face of more criticism, she retreated to saying she’d shore up Obamacare first, and introduce Medicare for All in year three of her presidency. Her shifting positions managed to alienate both moderates and progressives: “People can see right through her lack of authenticity.”
Warren’s numbers may have slumped, said E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post, but in a field this “radically unsettled” anything can happen. In the Quinnipiac survey, Democratic voters still ranked Warren as the candidate with the “best policy ideas,” and “she was by far the leading second choice” overall—the preferred alternative of 43 percent of Buttigieg’s supporters and 35 percent of Sanders’. “Democratic voters appear torn between heart and head,” said Dan Balz, also in the Post. They’d like a progressive candidate who will inspire them, like Warren or Sanders, but they are so frightened by the prospect of a second Trump term that they’re very “risk averse.”
Democrats are right to worry, said Susan Milligan in USNews.com. Trump’s consistently low approval rating, which has hovered around 42 percent, should doom him. But his base is fervently loyal, and unless Democrats pick a candidate who can win back Midwestern swing states in 2020, they could suffer the recurring nightmare of seeing Trump losing the popular vote and celebrating a narrow Electoral College victory. The intraparty war between moderates and progressives makes a Trump victory more likely, said Thomas Edsall in The New York Times. With Buttigieg and Biden sharply questioning Warren’s math and viability, and Sanders and Warren dismissing Buttigieg and Biden as centrist sellouts, the remaining four top-tier candidates are being “drawn into an ever-tightening circular firing squad which, by the end, may grievously wound its sole survivor.” ■