Elizabeth Warren’s natural political base comprises white, upscale, highly educated progressives with woke social attitudes and white-collar jobs in big cities on the coasts. That’s a species commonly found in the newsrooms of major media outlets, which helps explain why Warren attracted so much adoring press coverage during her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. In the end, that campaign went nowhere. Warren turned out to be a bust when it came to generating votes. She didn’t come close to winning a single primary or caucus, and she quit the race on March 5.
That didn’t dampen the devotion of her base. A chorus of commentators indignantly insisted that Warren’s terrible performance at the polls was the fault not of the candidate or her ideas, but of the supposedly entrenched sexism and misogyny of America’s political culture. Now some of the choristers, accepting the inevitability of Joe Biden as the Democrats’ 2020 presidential nominee, have moved on to a new hymn: Warren, they croon, should be picked for vice president.
“While there are many good possibilities from which Biden can choose,” declares CNN’s Julian Zelizer, “one stands out more than any other: Sen. Elizabeth Warren.” Staff writer John Cassidy of The New Yorker makes “The Case for Joe Biden to Pick Elizabeth Warren as His Running Mate,” extolling her "obvious command of the issues” and “killer instinct.” In The Intercept, Mehdi Hasan asserts that Biden cannot find a “smarter or more competent” running mate. “It has to be Elizabeth Warren,” he argues. “It just has to be.”
Biden said last month he’ll pick a woman, and Warren said last week she would accept if asked. It doesn’t take a degree in political science to see what she would gain from being Biden’s veep choice: If elected, he would be 78 at his inauguration, and she would be one heartbeat away from the most powerful job in America.
But what would Biden gain?
Unlike Ronald Reagan in 1980 or George W. Bush in 2000, Biden doesn’t need a running mate who can bring years of Washington experience to the ticket. There is no home-state advantage for Biden in selecting Warren: With or without her, he’ll carry Massachusetts in November.
Would Warren in the VP slot make the Democratic ticket more electable? Are there voters she could pull in who would otherwise sit out the election or go Republican? Black voters are certainly a key Democratic constituency, but they’ve never warmed up to Warren. Voters under 30 never showed the enthusiasm for Warren that they regularly did for Bernie Sanders (and in any case, the youngest cohort is the least likely to turn out on Election Day). Presumably many left-leaning Democrats would be pleased to see the ultraliberal Warren on the ticket — but their support matters far less in a general election than during the primaries. And in the primaries, what did their support amount to? Warren never finished higher than third place in any state — not even among women. What Warren’s track record indicates about electability is that she hasn’t got any.
Biden has repeatedly said he wants a running mate who will be “simpatico” on matters of policy and strategy. “I would try to find somebody who, No. 1, agreed with me in principle and philosophically . . . and someone who I can just simply trust,” he told New Hampshire voters.
That rules out the senator from Massachusetts. Even if Biden ignored the gulf separating him from Warren on policy matters, it is unthinkable he would wish to run with someone he correctly described as a “my way or the highway” elitist. Biden wrote in November that Warren’s style of politics — she takes pride in being an uncompromising, blood-and-teeth fighter — poses a “serious problem” for anyone troubled by the hyperpartisan intolerance of contemporary American life. Her attacks, Biden said, “reflect an angry, unyielding viewpoint,” in which anyone who doesn’t agree with you “must be a coward or corrupt or a small thinker.”
That was a stunning rebuke, especially coming from the ordinarily genial Biden. I can’t remember his ever denouncing the character of a fellow Democrat in such terms. I doubt a condemnation so raw is likely to be broomed aside as “just politics.”
Perhaps, if Warren were indispensable to a Democratic victory in November, Biden could force himself to swallow his gall and put her on the ticket. But she isn’t. And he won’t.