With Elizabeth Warren becoming the first major Democratic 2020 aspirant to take the plunge over the holidays, the chattering class is understandably assessing and analyzing her chances. Setting aside her hardcore ideological fanaticism, one of her glaring weaknesses as a candidate is that she's not a terribly warm, relatable, or likable person -- not unlike Democrats' last three failed presidential nominees. Politico published this piece earlier in the week, prompting cries of sexism from furious leftists:
The anti-Elizabeth Warren narrative was written before the Massachusetts senator even announced she was exploring a presidential run. She’s too divisive and too liberal, Washington Democrats have complained privately. Her DNA rollout was a disaster — and quite possibly a White House deal-breaker. She’s already falling in the polls, and — perhaps most stinging — shares too many of the attributes that sank Hillary Clinton...Fair or not, Warren will have work to do to overcome wariness of her likely candidacy. A USA Today/Suffolk poll released last week assessing excitement behind potential 2020 Democratic candidates showed a net negative for Warren — more people opposed the idea of her candidacy for president than supported it. And a quarterly poll of Iowa Democrats saw Warren’s standing among potential White House seekers drop 7 percentage points — 16 percent to 9 percent — from September to December.
The story quotes several Warren allies who reject the premise of these knocks on their preferred candidate, and raises the specter of sexism being cited as a pushback against this line of criticism. That didn't prevent a number of leftist commentators and activist from denouncing the entire issue raised in the piece as sexist:
Since "unlikable" is quite obviously a synonym in politics for "strong, bright, and passionate woman," let's all be unlikable, shall we?— ilyse hogue (@ilyseh) January 2, 2019
The reality is that personally unlikable candidates struggle to win national elections. Al Gore was seen as awkward and robotic, and he lost. John Kerry was seen as condescending and haughty, and he lost. Hillary Clinton's dreadful image led to the same fate. Sexism and misogyny may limit the appeal of certain female candidates (many of whom thrived this past cycle), but likability deficits undeniably apply to men, too. As others have pointed out, how often was this factor raised in connection with Ted Cruz, in both his presidential run and his re-election bid? Answer: All the time, from snark about his "punchable face" to numerous commentaries about his divisive presence in the Senate. Warren supporters can whine about this issue, or lamely attempt to disqualify it as somehow driven by bigotry, but that doesn't obviate the actual problem. Yes, it's still very early, but first impressions matter. Beyond the two survey results mentioned above, other early returns aren't exactly glowing either:
Most noteworthy in the CNN national poll of Dems in 2020 (which basically just tests national name ID right now) are drops for Harris and Warren pic.twitter.com/JOwv3rcUiC— Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) December 14, 2018
CNN’s Alisyn Camerota was discussing Warren’s upcoming trip to Iowa, pointing out that some political pundits have suggested that Warren may have missed her opportunity to run for president. Camerota asked Linskey, who previously reported for Warren’s hometown Boston Globe, if she sensed the same hunger for Warren to run for president today as there was in 2016. “I think that has changed a little bit. I think there is some truth to that,” Linskey said. “You look back to 2015 and the run-up to the 2016 election, and there was this organization, ‘Ready for Warren,’ really pushing her to run.” Linskey noted that during many of Warren’s speeches in 2105, she was often interrupted by people urging her to run for president. “That sort of enthusiasm…we haven’t detected it much yet,” Linskey said about Warren’s 2020 run.
"I think it's a great question. It's potentially because she's very progressive, maybe a little too progressive even for Massachusetts, but it should be said that [Ohio Senator] Sherrod Brown in Ohio has a long progressive record and he actually outperformed how House Democrats did," Enten said. "It could also be the case that maybe there's just something about her personally that voters don't like." He went on to say that if you look at how Massachusetts voters view Warren—whether in early primary polls or the reelection margin—and see that they are supporting other Democratic candidates over her, it's a "warning sign."
Again, this electoral process is barely getting started, but I'm not sure that raging against obvious red flags will mitigate underlying flaws. Warren will no doubt persist in her targeted efforts to 'humanize' herself -- from the disastrous DNA stunt, to the beer video, to the 'quiet car' clip -- and we'll see how effective she can be. But if she ends up trailing other women who jump into the fray, it'll be harder and harder to spin her shortcomings as the product of sexism. Speaking of Warren and umbrage culture, lots of people are upset about President Trump tweeting this Daily Wire meme poking fun at Warren's heritage fraud debacle:
Under most circumstances, direct fire from Trump would be manna from heaven for any Democratic presidential hopeful, but Trump is again hitting Warren on an issue that has proven to be pretty problematic for her. She can try to exploit it for her own benefit, but in doing so, she'd amplify a storyline that she probably wishes would go away. I'll leave you with CNN ridiculously claiming that Trump's "Pocahontas" nickname is a "racial slur:"
Fox's 8pm show parroting Trump, putting a racial slur right on screen. pic.twitter.com/ft5JiHtllt— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) January 3, 2019
Which is more racially insensitive: Baselessly and cynically claiming Cherokee and Native heritage for a very specific and strategic number of years, as you advance your career amid a diversity hiring push -- or ridiculing and shaming a person for doing that?