Now or Never for Elizabeth Warren

So there’s that new Noam Scheiber piece in The New Republic that everyone’s talking about, positing that Elizabeth Warren could well be the insurgent force that upends the Hillary Clinton presidential coronation. It’s good stuff, though I think it overstates the favorability of the environment for Warren to succeed or mount a serious threat to Clinton. Scheiber cites some compelling-seeming data on the Democratic electorate’s feelings about Wall Street and banks, and of course they all show how much we liberals hate them richie-riches. But that’s not new, though perhaps the feelings are more intense now. I just find it hard to believe that something as mind-bogglingly complicated as policy concerning financial markets could really define the contours of a national race. I could be wrong.

(I have to admit, my eyes rolled a bit at this passage: “Chris Murphy, the Connecticut senator, estimates that not too long ago, congressional Democrats were split roughly evenly between Wall Street supporters and Wall Street skeptics. Today, he puts the skeptics’ strength at more like two-thirds.” Oh really? One guy guesses it might be “like two-thirds”? Well take that to the bank! Or, since it’s angry populist Democrats, take it to the community credit union.)

But for this post I’m more concerned with the question of whether Warren will or should run for 2016. The answers are maybe and yes.

If the conventional wisdom about a political figure is, “Well they’re pretty hot right now, and they show promise as a candidate in 4/8 years,” it really means they need to run now. Many thought Barack Obama should have waited at the time, being young and relatively inexperienced, but he knew better. He knew his star was brightest in 2008.

But the example need not be a successful one. Sure, John Huntsman turned out to be a lousy candidate. But remember, he was something of a darling during Obama’s first term: a popular governor, crossing party lines, representing America in China of all places. That glow was not going to last to 2016, however, at which point he’d be forgotten. He had to run when he did, or never run at all. He failed utterly, but he had to try then, or never.

Chris Christie could afford to sit 2012 out. He’d clearly get another term as governor, he’d continue to make headlines and attract attention as an equal-opportunity ass-chewer, and for God’s sake, the party nearly begged him to run in 2011/12, right in the middle of a primary already well underway. Correctly, Christie determined his moment would come again.

Ted Cruz knows his moment is now. As does Rand Paul. If either of them ever run, it’s this time. This is not to say they’ll win, or even do well, but as was the case with Huntsman, this is it. (Paul, however, is the iconoclastic type who might make several credible goes of it.)

(Rick Perry should have run in 2012, yes, but started earlier, as I’ve argued previously, because the fashionably late prove they don’t have the fire within them required to go all the way.)

In four years, Elizabeth Warren might still be a liberal hero, and she might still be firing up the base. But that’s a big maybe. Four years is plenty of time for other figures within the party to emerge and suck up more populist oxygen. And eight years? Forget it. She’ll be in her 70s, and decade-old news. (And if it is eight years, that implies two terms of a Democratic president, which might also mean less agitation for a populist candidate.)

This is it, 2016, Hillary or no Hillary. If Warren wants to be president, she is probably smart enough to know that this is her shot. It may not be a good shot, and I am skeptical that it is, but it’s likely the only one she’ll get.

I think Elizabeth Warren might well run for president. I have to assume her chances of success, now or ever, are rather slim. Not because she wouldn’t be an excellent president, as I’d be hard pressed to come up with anyone I’d prefer myself, but because I sense she’s not a sociopath. I don’t think she’s both brilliant and nuts, which I believe is nearly required to capture a party nomination, let alone become president. As Scheiber says, Warren may be touched with a mania, but it’s not a mania for power or self-aggrandizement, but for a policy agenda. I don’t think that’s enough. I think to win this thing, you need to want it for yourself, and want it so bad it hurts.

I just don’t think she hurts that way.

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