The short answer: I’m not convinced.
If you’re a liberal, you may have felt a disturbance in the Force Wednesday, as if millions of voices cried out at once, and then jizzed into millions of pants. At least one Alaskan salmon was even affected. That disturbance came courtesy of Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who was asked about her recent private meeting with Vice President and potential presidential candidate Joe Biden. The fireworks started with Warren’s conspicuous non-answer about the intriguing possibility of a Biden-Warren ticket, and finished with Warren’s refusal to pledge that she’d serve her full six-year senate term:
Was there any talk of a joint ticket, even jokingly?
(pregnant pause) “It was a long conversation.”
Warren does, of course, have a history of getting cute with this sort of question. You may recall that a few months ago, she caused a stir by implying that the issue of the Trans-Pacific Partnership might jar her into reconsidering a White House bid. In that case, though, there was a clear policy objective in mind. This didn’t feel like that. Bernie Sanders has already succeeded at injecting most of Warren’s policy priorities into this race. This felt like Warren trying not to say something that wasn’t true.
As it begins to look more and more likely that Vice President Biden will jump into the race, the prospect of a Biden/Warren unity ticket has broad appeal among varied factions of the non-Hillary left. One of the key arguments against a Biden run has been his polling deficit with Hillary, which is in the mid-twenties on a good day.
Biden could likely close that gap significantly on his own just by announcing, but adding Warren could help him siphon points away from Sanders, as well as from Hillary. The presence of Warren on the ticket could also mitigate resentment from women voters over the abandonment of Hillary Clinton’s historic quest to be the first woman president, as well as paper over some of Biden’s deficits with the left.
More importantly, such a primary ticket could unite two Democratic factions that have become bitterly divided during the campaign thus far. The Bernie Sanders Wing, which is just the Warren Wing with worse hair, has been in something close to open warfare with the Obama coalition, first over the bad blood feud about trade, and then over the #BlackLivesMatter movement. That conflict notwithstanding, Obama supporters aren’t exactly stuck like glue to Hillary Clinton, who dug herself a deep hole with them in 2008. Hillary has made significant inroads this time around, but her grip on that coalition is tenuous.
Biden, on the other hand, is beloved by Obama supporters, a fact that covers up a host of ills that might otherwise hurt him, like his authorship of the crime bill that Hillary Clinton has been taking so much guff over. Even without Elizabeth Warren or an official campaign announcement, Biden is already outpolling Hillary Clinton in head-to-heads with Republicans.
A Biden/Warren co-ticket would be a great way for Joe Biden to overcome Hillary’s huge primary lead, but the ticket’s appeal is more of a wild card in a general election, and would depend a lot on who the Republican nominee is. It also remains to be seen if Warren’s aloof handling of the media plays well in a national setting. Liberals are happy to have her steer every question back to her pet issues, but to a wider audience, this can look more like evasion.
In conversations with Obama/Biden supporters on Twitter, it seems that they’re prepared to overlook Warren’s transgressions against Obama in the interest of winning, but some of them share my unease about Warren’s qualifications to hold the nation’s second-highest office. Politically, Warren rose to fame as an economic populist at war with the big banks, and as a U.S. Senator, she hasn’t branched out much. All of her committee assignments are pretty much in that same wheelhouse. As President Obama’s second term has shown, there’s a lot more to being president than economic policy.
Could Elizabeth Warren step into the commander-in-chief role if called upon to do so? Would Warren have negotiated the Iran deal, could she execute diplomacy effectively, could she wrangle Congress as effectively as Joe Biden has so many times? These are all completely open questions. Then, there’s the fact that, like Donald Trump, Warren used to play for the other side:
I was an independent. I was with the GOP for a while because I really thought that it was a party that was principled in its conservative approach to economics and to markets. And I feel like the GOP party just left that. They moved to a party that said, “No, it’s not about a level playing field. It’s now about a field that’s gotten tilted.” And they really stood up for the big financial institutions when the big financial institutions are just hammering middle class American families. I just feel like that’s a party that moved way, way away.
She was a Republican until 1996, two years into Newt Gingrich’s speakership, and well into the golden age of Republican racism. The Jesse Helms “white hands” ad was okay, but their approach to markets was the last straw?
I’m a liberal who likes Warren’s economic views, but I would have to take a second before pulling that lever. I’d still pull it, since I’d probably vote for a Palpatine/Vader ticket if it kept Republicans out of the White House, but it would take me a second.