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Elizabeth Warren cries and tries to regain ground with voters

Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders, her ideological soulmate, rolls along, tears-free

Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks at the Val Air Ballroom in West Des Moines, Iowa, Nov. 2.NYT

If you thought being a brainy, battle-ready professor with a solution for every problem is enough to win the presidency, it’s not.

Not when the big news about Elizabeth Warren is that she cried.

It happened in Iowa, after a young girl asked her if there was ever a time in her life when someone she cared about didn’t accept her. According to the Des Moines Register, “after a long pause and with tears in her eyes, the senator from Massachusetts said ‘yeah,’ before telling the story of the divorce from her first husband,” and how painful it was to tell her mother that her marriage was over. To showcase the significance of the encounter, Warren tweeted out a clip.


Warren’s “shared emotional moment,” as press reports described it, came after a poll commissioned by The New York Times showed that voters widely back her plans to tax the rich — and even back her plan for Medicare for All, although support for that breaks down along more partisan lines. Yet her presidential campaign has stalled. That leads to the conclusion that she needs more than plans to turn things around. She still needs voters to trust that she can win the White House. And that will take more than tears.

Up until now, Warren has been all progressive policy all the time, which is apparently fine if you are Bernie Sanders. Anger is also fine if you are Sanders, and of course, just perfect if you are President Trump. But a female candidate who is angry about economic inequity is a threat to America, or at least to American corporate interests. No billionaires have taken on Sanders as directly as they’ve taken on Warren. Yet Sanders has proposed a broader wealth tax than Warren’s. And unlike Warren, Sanders acknowledges that his Medicare for All proposal would also raise taxes. Meanwhile, Sanders leads Warren in the Real Clear Politics national poll average, as well as in Iowa and New Hampshire. And, Pete Buttigieg, who is known more for cool intellectualism than for raw emotionalism, leads both Sanders and Warren in Iowa and New Hampshire.


Warren certainly isn’t the first female candidate whose tears made headlines. When her eyes welled up in New Hampshire in 2008, Hillary Clinton famously rebooted a campaign that was reeling from a loss to Barack Obama in Iowa. And during the 2016 campaign, Clinton also showcased events that involved touching moments with voters. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. But in the end, it did not solve Clinton’s ultimate problem with voters — their lack of trust in her.

That’s Warren’s problem, too. She has been attacked over her claims to Native American heritage. Her math when it comes to paying for Medicare for All has been challenged. Her assertion that she was forced out of a teaching job many years ago because she was pregnant was also questioned. Just recently, she told a group of school-choice activists that her children “went to public schools,” not private ones. called that misleading, after her campaign later clarified that her daughter attended public school while her son mostly attended private school.

I know — there’s Trump, his lies, and a double standard for women. But unless Warren puts such doubts about herself to rest, primary voters will see her as a risk.


And that’s something to cry about.

Joan Vennochi is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at Follow her @joan_vennochi.