Sen. Warren Embraces 'Pugnacious' Populism

Posted: Jul 15, 2014 1:39 PM
Sen. Warren Embraces 'Pugnacious' Populism

Over at Hot Air, my colleague Noah Rothman wrote about the piece written by the Cook Report’s Amy Walter, where she describes a 2016 Democratic field without Hillary. Rothman noted that such a development would create “panic, mass desertion, rampant substance abuse, and night terrors among Democratic voters.”

As Walters and Rothman noted, the 2016 Democratic field has the potential to be very crowded – and possibly competitive – if Hillary decides to sit out 2016. All told, there will be a woman, an Africa-American, no Latino, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, and Vice President Joe Biden as the fragile frontrunner. But, let’s look at Walter’s about Warren:

There will be a woman: Of course there's Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren ("most candidates don't write books unless they want to be in a national conversation"), but mentioned as often was New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar was also highlighted, though not nearly as often as the other two. My thoughts: Warren will excite the base - and can raise tons of money - but Republicans would love to run against a Massachusetts liberal in 2016 (we know how well that worked out in 1988 for Dems). Though she has a much lower profile than Warren, Gillibrand has a natural fundraising base in New York City and has been building out a national fundraising structure as well. She's carved out a profile as a defender of women's rights and safety (like sexual assault in the military), but she will have need to build up her record on a broader variety of economic and international issues. And, like Clinton, she has to find a way to effectively balance her relationships with Wall Street with the populist mood of the Democratic base.

Yesterday, Sen. Warren decided to stump for West Virginia Democratic Senate candidate Natalie Tennant, who’s trailing Republican Shelly Moore Capito by ten points. Yet, while CNN noted that her reception was cool outside, the speech Warren delivered captured what Americans are thirsting for in politics: the return of neo-populism (via CNN):

In a ballroom packed with nearly 400 West Virginians, Warren was greeted like a bona fide celebrity, met with multiple standing ovations, a cascade of selfie attempts and a few shouts of “2016!”

What followed was a pugnacious and folksy speech packed with the kind of full-bodied populist rhetoric that has thrust her into 2016 presidential conversation alongside Hillary Clinton – whether she wants to be there or not.

“The way I see this, Citibank, Goldman Sachs, all those other guys on Wall Street, they’ve got plenty of folks in the United State Senate willing to work on their side,” she said, jabbing her hands into the air to make her points. “We need more people in the U.S. Senate willing to work on the side of America’s families.”

Tennant, she said, “is strong, she is independent, and she won’t let anybody roll over her.”

Warren talked about her working class upbringing in Oklahoma, telling the story of her mother taking on a minimum wage job at Sears, an effort to save their home after her ill father could no longer work. She humble-bragged about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – the “little consumer agency” she helped launch – noting that it’s already recovered $4 billion from banks and credit card companies for American customers. And she bashed Republican opposition to her student loan bill, which would have lowered interest rates but was blocked in the Senate, saying the GOP’s first priority is defending big banks.

“The Republicans say no to raising the minimum wage, they say no to equal pay for equal work, they say we have to cut Social Security in order to make our budget balanced, they say no to those pension promises,” Warren said sternly. “They say it’s more important to stand up for Wall Street than it is to stand up for families across this county. Well I tell you what. They can say it, but they are going to lose.”

Last May, Salena Zito of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review wrote about the nameless, faceless populist wave that’s growing in the country:

For all intents and purposes, the tea party movement is gone, following the pattern of most populist political movements in our history. Such movements generally peak after two election cycles, or they are taken over by the most extreme elements of their membership (or by unscrupulous political fundraisers); those who initially supported the movements often settle back into their party of origin, or they become independent voters who feel free to pick a person, not a party.

It is not as if the tea party's strong sentiments — curbing big government and big spending — don't still exist out there. They do. In fact, they are a big part of the basis for this new, still-unnamed wave that is building beyond Washington, D.C.

Yet many people are fed up with all the labels attached to their political beliefs, whether it is “tea party,” “Democrat” or “Republican.”

In an effort to hold on to their seats in Washington, Democrats have tried to create a populist movement by pushing gender, income, race and other divisive issues as voting triggers.

Republicans have tried to do the same thing with religion, contraception, marriage and other social issues.

But populism is a funny thing: You can't create it on command, and the kind of rage needed to foster it is sustainable for only so long before it fades.

Zito pointed out that Rep. Eric Cantor might have been a casualty of this emerging wave.

Sen. Warren isn’t a person to embrace the Tea Party sentiments that will continue to linger in this emerging populist wave. Then again, everything she talked about in West Virginia wasn’t necessarily on the fringe either.

On the minimum wage, whether we like it or not, 71% of Americans support raising it to $9 an hour. If you break it down by party affiliation, 91% of Democrats, 68% of independents, and 50% of Republicans agree, according to Gallup.

A further breakdown, which includes income, gender, geographic location, and education levels, show it’s immensely popular, with 54% of conservatives agreeing. Former 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney even voiced his support for raising the minimum wage.

Additionally, cutting Social Security isn’t popular.

But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Warren could be a dark horse in the 2016 cycle, but I doubt you’ll see her clinch the nomination in the end. Although, there are some good reasons why 2016 would be the best opportunity for Warren to mount a presidential run – and challenge Hillary if she does run.

For Republicans, we have a bunch of potential candidates of the more blue-collar vein, like Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio. So, while Warren might be able to deliver "pugnacious" populism, there are plenty of candidates on the GOP side who can surely embrace that mold as well.