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Ground Game analysis

Elizabeth Warren is good at many things. But her Biden endorsement shows timing isn’t one of them

Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden.Elizabeth Frantz/Bloomberg

Senator Elizabeth Warren is very good at a great number of things. She is likely always the smartest person in the room. When it comes to policy, she is very thorough. She is loyal. She works hard, is disciplined, takes advice well and acts on it. And she can be bold — at times shockingly so.

But her endorsement of Joe Biden’s presidential campaign on Wednesday demonstrated, once again, something she is bad at as a politician: timing.

There are a lot of qualities that are important for a successful politician to possess. Connecting with people is certainly one. An ability to raise money and hire the right people is another. Though understanding timing is possibly as critical to politicians as it is comedians. If a politician misses the moment, they are a lot less effective.

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By all accounts, Warren missed her best chance to run for president: 2016. And then she missed the moment to endorse Hillary Clinton in 2016 when she would have had maximum leverage, instead doing it late in the game, when Clinton was already going to be the nominee.

Even in the smaller moments when she was ramping up a presidential campaign, she missed the timing. She let others initially lead on Medicare for All in the US Senate (remember Kamala Harris was the first cosponsor of the Bernie Sanders bill). It was obvious then that the proposal would be the defining domestic policy issue of the upcoming primary campaign. And when she did announce her presidential exploratory committee, it was on New Year’s Eve. While there was a logic to being the first major candidate to jump in, the specific day and specific time she did it caused many to scratch their heads.

The most obvious example of bad timing came during the campaign: she peaked too early. She led the race in the early fall only to have a bad rollout of her own Medicare for All plan. It did not please progressives or moderates. (She may have missed the timing on explaining how she would pay for it, too: Sanders never announced the details on how he would pay for reshaping the American health care system.)

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A lot has been written about how Warren plays an inside game and tries to use leverage. To be clear, she appears to want to use leverage for the “right” reasons: to advance her policy agenda, not just accumulate power for the sake of power.

However, the timing of her endorsement of Biden this week is probably too late to make Biden agree to much of her agenda. Sure, there was a line about how Biden would commit to bankruptcy reform that helps Warren look like she got something, but consider what would have happened if she negotiated an endorsement the week she got out.

Remember, even though Warren had little chance of becoming the Democratic nominee by the time Super Tuesday came around, she stayed in the game anyway. Such a move probably did take votes away from Sanders, especially in California, and helped Biden. Though, as it turned out, Biden didn’t need much help.

Two days later, Warren stood in front of reporters outside of her Cambridge home. She said it was too early to talk about endorsements. Yet had she been more open to it with Biden, that was the moment where she could have extracted the maximum amount of concessions. It was obviously then that Biden was on track to be the nominee. Logically it made sense to jump on the Biden campaign. He had to already be thankful to Warren for destroying Michael Bloomberg. She could have offered the final knock-out punch to Sanders, instead of the Michigan primary doing that days later.

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But she waited. She waited until after Sanders endorsed Biden. She waited until Barack Obama endorsed Biden. In fact, she was the last major 2020 Democratic presidential candidate to endorse Biden.

Biden may well need Warren in the general election. She continues to serve as an important bridge between the party’s progressive wing and the more establishment wing. She might even be his vice presidential pick. But in the primary, Warren chose the moment of minimum leverage.


James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell and on Instagram @jameswpindell.