WASHINGTON — Senator Elizabeth Warren’s acceptance of President Trump’s DNA dare triggered an avalanche of media attention Monday for the potential Democratic presidential contender, who used the spotlight to highlight her Oklahoma roots and portray herself as the victim of racist attacks.
By releasing genetic evidence of a distant Native American ancestor in her family tree, she sought to transform doubts about her claims to native heritage into an attribute. She launched a coordinated offensive by needling Trump on Twitter and in videos and by stealing the spotlight from the press-hungry White House.
But Republicans found ways to keep mocking her, cherry picking from her DNA test results. The results showed Warren likely had a Native American ancestor six to 10 generations in the past. Seizing on the worst case, Republicans noted a full native ancestor 10 generations back would make her as little as 1/1024 Indian.
“Democrat Elizabeth Warren found someone to say she — might be — 1/1,024 Native American,” said Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican Party. “In what world does that give you the right to claim minority status?”
Trump dismissed all of it Monday morning. “Who cares? Who cares?” Trump said before heading to Florida to survey hurricane damage. “She owes the country an apology. What’s her percentage, 1/1000th?” Trump said later, in Florida.
Kellyanne Conway, a top aide to the president, shrugged off the test as “junk science” in a CNN interview, though she acknowledged that she hasn’t seen the report.
Other conservatives were sharing anti-Warren memes, including one showing a mock up of a faux presidential logo with Warren’s name in bold blue over “1/2020th.”
Despite the blowback, Warren’s move revealed the sophistication of her potential presidential operation and her own determination to get past the questions about her Native American heritage before she decides whether she’s going to run for president. She’s been dogged by her previously unsubstantiated claims to Native American heritage since her 2012 Senate campaign.
The controversy arose in the campaign when GOP operatives found Harvard Crimson stories quoting a Harvard Law School spokesman referring to Warren as a Native American law professor, and holding her up as an example of diversity at the school. She was unable, during the campaign to substantiate these claims. Warren did formally identify as Native American after being hired at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard, but a Globe investigation found that she was viewed as a white woman by hiring committees at both places.
Warren released a roughly five-minute video so carefully choreographed it was similar to a typical presidential launch message. The video, which was played repeatedly on cable news Monday, showed Warren sitting on a porch in Oklahoma and talking with her three brothers.
“I am a Republican, registered,” said David Herring, one of her brothers, in a scene inside a home in Oklahoma. He said he thinks Trump’s nickname for Warren, Pocahontas, is “ridiculous” and “stupid.’’
Another Warren brother, John Herring, chimed in on the video: “It’s a bunch of crap.”
Middle-aged white men form the core of Trump’s supporting demographic.
As part of her rollout, Warren sent out a blizzard of tweets aimed at needling the president on his favorite social media platform.
“I took this test and released the results for anyone who cares to see because I’ve got nothing to hide,” Warren wrote on Twitter. “What are YOU hiding, @realDonaldTrump?”
She also challenged Trump to make good on his dare from the summer.
In July, Trump told a Montana rally that he’d challenge Warren to take a DNA test should the two ever meet in a presidential debate. “And we will say, ‘I will give you $1 million to your favorite charity, paid for by Trump, if you take the test and it shows you’re an Indian,’ ” the president said.
On Monday, Trump told reporters in Florida: ”I’ll only do it if I can test her personally.’’
“That will not be something I enjoy doing, either,’’ he added.
Warren shot back quickly, referring to his remarks as a “creepy physical threat.”
Warren has used the weeks before her midterm election to try to resolve a slew of lingering questions about her background. Over the summer, she released hundreds of pages of her personnel files to the Globe showing that she was viewed as a white woman by every law school that hired her. She recently posted 10 years worth of tax documents online.
And now she has taken the extraordinary step of having her DNA examined. It bolsters her family lore that O.C. Sarah Smith, her great-great-great-grandmother had at least partial Indian blood.
Smith is five generations behind Warren in the family tree. The test says the full Native American could be six generations behind Warren.
“Candidates release the information they feel they need to release,” explained Anita Dunn, a Democratic strategist who worked in the Obama White House.
“It feels like a further invasion of privacy that wouldn’t have even been possible 10 years ago,” Dunn said. “But the expectation is for people to prove these things once they start getting attacked.”
Warren’s 2018 Senate reelection opponent, Geoff Diehl, used Warren’s media blitz Monday to redouble his calls for her to drop out of race for the Senate.
“This just reaffirms that she is trying to address an issue that would potentially hamper her for that presidential run,” Diehl said in a Monday interview with the Globe.
Diehl, a Whitman Republican, does not in his campaign regularly discuss the controversy surrounding her claims to Native American blood (though he brought it up recently in at least one TV interview). The fact that Warren addressed it — and released a highly produced, five-minute video having her family address Trump’s attacks on her — shows she is not focused on the Senate race, he said.
She did get pushback from the leadership of the Cherokee Nation. Warren has said that she has Cherokee and Delaware ancestry, but never claimed membership of either tribe.
“Using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong,” said Chuck Hoskin Jr., the secretary of state for the Cherokee Nation.
He said it makes a “mockery” of DNA tests “while also dishonoring legitimate tribal governments and their citizens.”
For some Democrats, Warren’s DNA test put the issue to bed. Acceptance from her own party is significant because Warren will need to best a wide field of Democratic candidates before she has the chance to take on Trump, if she decides to run. How she is perceived as behaving as a proto-candidate — and whether she is viewed as being able to move on from difficult issues — will determine whether the top party influencers see her as a hardy contender.
“No reasonable member of the press or the public should have further questions,” said Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank. “It sort of ends this conversation and we can all move on from here.”
Other members of her own party questioned the timing, saying she was creating a national distraction that was pulling attention away from the Democratic Party’s message.
“Why 22 days before a crucial election where we MUST win house and senate to save America, why did @SenWarren have to do her announcement now?” tweeted Jim Messina, who was President Obama’s campaign manager in 2012. “Why can’t Dems ever stay focused???”
The comments by Messina also reveal that Warren has the wattage to drive a news cycle, even in this topsy-turvy era.
And the Massachusetts senator seemed to delight in taking on Trump, who has been pushing her to take the test.
“Please send the check to the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center,” said Warren, referring to a nonprofit focused on protecting Native women as she reminded him of his $1 million pledge.
“I took this test and released the results for anyone who cares to see because I’ve got nothing to hide,” Warren added.
She turned her Twitter remarks to the midterms: “Release your tax returns — or the Democratic-led House will do it for you soon enough. Tick-tock, Mr President.”