Imagine if every presidential campaign looked like Elizabeth Warren’s has the past few months.
A steady stream of detailed, specific policy proposals; thoughtful responses to difficult questions; coherent explanations of positions on matters of national import: Whether or not you agree with her politics, this is the Platonic ideal of campaigning, right?
Here are my ideas, here’s what I care about, and here’s why. That’s the sort of thing that voters ought to be most concerned with. Anyone who voted for Warren’s reelection to the Senate last year but had real trepidation about a presidential bid can rest easy. She’s doing Massachusetts proud.
And so, because everything about our political landscape is a fiery hellscape, a University of New Hampshire poll released this week had Warren at just 5 percent among likely Granite State Democratic primary voters.
Welcome to presidential politics, where bold, specific, and detailed policy proposals; strong name recognition; and concise, comprehensible rhetoric somehow land you a distant fourth — 10 points behind Pete Buttigieg — in New Hampshire.
Nevertheless she persisted and all that, but you could forgive Warren if she put her fist through something when that poll came out.
Not Warren. Instead, she spent last Monday night landing big punches at a CNN town hall appearance. It was masterful in all the ways that should matter. You know, the ways that voters say matter but rarely seem to drive decision making when it comes time to fill in the bubbles on the ballot.
Any attempt to refute the very gendered, often misogynist criticism of her electability and likability would probably just backfire anyway. Remember when she had the audacity to drink a beer? So instead she’s turned specificity into the foundation of her campaign.
It’s refreshing, until you realize that a detailed issues-and-policy-first run for the White House is rare enough to be refreshing.
“We’re not going to win by just saying ‘not Donald Trump.’ We’re not going to win by doing better name-calling than he does,” Warren said during the CNN town hall. “The way we’re going to do this, is we’re going to get out and talk about our vision, and how it affects families all across this country — how it touches people personally.”
This would sound not so different from all the other hope merchants who are still a little light on specifics in the vast Democratic field — your Betos, your Bookers, your Mayors Pete. Except that for Warren, this was the epilogue. Here’s what she said first:
“A 2-cent [per dollar marginal rate on fortunes over $50 million] wealth tax would let us do universal child care, would let us do universal pre-K, would let us do universal college, would let us knock back the student loan debt burden, and still have money to spend.”
These aren’t talking points. Each policy plan is backed by enough detail to make Al Gore’s eyes glaze over. And the answer to the ever-present “how will you pay for that” question is built in.
She introduced her plan to address housing costs and discrimination as a bill in the Senate. If every candidate were this specific about their proposals, instead of trafficking mostly in vague centrist rhetoric about coming together as a country, we might actually be able to choose a president based on ideas and plans, instead of problematic notions of personality.
Warren shouldn’t be expected to win New Hampshire. Bernie Sanders won the 2016 primary there easily. He’s from a neighboring state like Warren, of course, and though people sometimes make fun of his followers, their loyalty was well-earned. Only now, after Sanders has consistently championed his progressive platform for decades largely unchanged, have other Democrats found their way on board. It’s easy to see why he was far ahead in the most recent poll.
But we still have a long way to go before New Hampshire, and even longer before a general election campaign that’s still a year away. But if the campaign ahead is about issues and ideas instead of insults and ideology, then Warren will be leading the way.