Senator Elizabeth Warren says at the beginning of her new book “Persist” that it is not a memoir of her 2020 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. On that she is right. The book, which was released Tuesday, offers very little insight on what she was thinking at key moments of the campaign, or lessons learned.
At the same time, the book is almost entirely about her unsuccessful bid for the presidency. Like a Wikipedia article, she methodically recounts key moments from her run: the moment she drank beer on her Instagram live as she announced an exploratory committee, the selfie lines, and her dunk on Michael Bloomberg on a Nevada debate stage. If anyone wanted to know what it was like for Warren to run for president on a human level, however, she wasn’t offering it.
In this, Warren’s 12th book, Massachusetts’ senior senator basically lays out her 2019 campaign stump speech over 288 pages. Like she did in Iowa and New Hampshire, she weaved in her personal stories from Oklahoma to suggest there was an authenticity to her policy proposals. The only discussion that made the book more up-to-date with 2021 was her stories about COVID.
Publishers know Warren has fans who will buy this book for no other reason than they like her. Financial terms weren’t disclosed, but with previous books, she earned millions in book advances. In addition to the money, the book may put Warren back into the national conversation as she’s interviewed by the media and travels the country — virtually or in person. It’s not a new phenomenon: Among the politicians who have done so is fellow senator and former presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar, who just released a book in the same fashion.
Indeed, Warren’s interview with the Washington Post this week as part of the book launch was more interesting than the book.
All of that said, here are three things that we learned and two things we didn’t but wanted to know:
We learned more details about what she was going through while her brother died from COVID
Warren told the Boston Globe over a year ago that her older brother Donald Reed Herring had died of COVID in the early months of the pandemic. But in the book, she gave her most detailed comments yet about her brother — six full pages about their relationship. He was a Fox News-loving veteran and his little sister made regular appearances on Rachel Maddow. But they had a good relationship and talked often. She noted how he first was sick in January and she talked to him while campaigning in the Iowa Caucuses.
She started calling twice a day. Within two weeks, he died. Here is how Warren described it — in a way that many families who lost someone during the pandemic can no doubt relate to.
“Don Reed died alone. No wife. No sons. No grandchildren or brothers or sister. I don’t know if he was choking for air or if he was mercifully unconscious. I don’t know if he was thirsty or cold or afraid. I just know that I wasn’t there to hold his hand and tell him that I loved him.”
We learned about the moment she first started to consider that she could win
The most illuminating Warren got about her inner thoughts on the campaign trail came as she described a moment when she was riding high. For about three months in the late summer and early fall, Warren was rising in the polls and eventually became the front-runner.
As she tells it, she was alone with her husband Bruce at around 11 p.m. for a late burger and beer, a routine that had become something of a staple after a grueling day on the campaign trail. Noting all the momentum, and holding her hand, Bruce said “babe, you could actually do this. You could be president.”
Warren suggests it was more a matter-of-fact statement than a hopeful one. She wanted to tell him “don’t go there,” but, “it was late and I was tired and on my second beer, so I took a couple of breaths and leaned back again and just let the idea wash over me.” Then she started to imagine actually being president and actually doing what she kept promising to do on the campaign trail.
It was an intimate, honest moment in the book that the reader would have had no other way of knowing.
We learned Warren’s famous selfie lines were a big part of how she sees the campaign
Running for president is extremely isolating. The candidates are always on the road and, despite speaking in front of thousands of people, and talking to literally hundreds of people a day from the press to staff to activists and groups, much of the campaign is transactional in nature.
Maybe it is no surprise then that Warren kept coming back to the conversations on the selfie line, the sometimes hours-long process of people lining up after an event to get their picture taken with Warren and share a few words.
To be clear, doing the selfie lines made great political sense and Warren was hardly the only candidate to take photos with supporters. But her devotion to them meant that the selfie line became associated with her, and it is clear in the book that she fed off the human connection — even if it was from a subset of people who were her biggest fans.
We didn’t learn why Warren thinks she lost
There were pages devoted to hope and big dreams about past and future policy fights, but there wasn’t a lot of introspection about why she didn’t become the Democratic nominee for president.
As mentioned earlier, there was a moment when Bruce, and many others felt that Warren was in a driving position to be the Democratic nominee. But in October the campaign collapsed. Many blame her response to questions about how she would pay for her Medicare for All plan. Others suggested she wasn’t able to sustain momentum and beat back attacks that were coming her way for the first time.
Beyond describing the challenges of running for president as a woman, she doesn’t offer the reader any post-mortem — with spin or otherwise — as to why this didn’t work. She also didn’t get into some of the low points of the campaign, like her heartbreaking performances in Iowa and New Hampshire and why she waited so long to drop out.
Maybe, she offered, she just “wasn’t good enough.”
We didn’t learn what’s next for Warren
President Biden has long said that in American politics, a politician is either on the way up or the way down. However, it appears Warren, in 2021, is going in neither direction. She is stuck. After running in 31 states and with a huge e-mail fund-raising list, she is certainly more powerful than when she first ran for president. She has also smartly placed aides and allies in the Biden administration. But at 71 years old and with a Democratic president in the first year of his first term, what exactly is the future for Warren? Is she still on the way up?
Warren doesn’t offer much here. Maybe that is expected since politicians don’t often show their cards. At the same time, with a 50-50 split in the Senate, it is also clear that many of the big ideas she campaigned about and wrote about in the book are simply ideas that aren’t going to be law anytime soon. So will she sit in the Senate and be the liberal champion of these causes, like the late Senator Ted Kennedy, or eventually go back to teaching or retire?
Who knows? But you can almost bet she will write another book at some point, and her supporters will buy it.