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A Clinton-Warren ticket will crash and burn

Sen. Elizabeth Warren.Jacquelyn Martin/AP/File 2015

Senator Elizabeth Warren has carved out a niche in Congress as a voice against the excesses of the financial industry. Big banks and hedge fund managers have reason to fear her.

But the first principle of vice presidential selection is “do no harm.”

If Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton puts Warren on the ticket, Clinton will be engulfed in an affirmative action controversy over whether her running mate claimed to be Native American to advance her career. That’s not a good way to start the general election campaign.

Of course, there are other reasons for Clinton not to pick Warren.


A Senate vacancy would leave the selection of an interim replacement to GOP Governor Charlie Baker until a special election could be held, no small matter for Democrats obsessed with regaining control of the Senate.

Warren is also the only Democratic woman in the Senate not to endorse Clinton. The only plausible excuse is Warren remains suspicious of Clinton’s ties to Wall Street. Such an awkward relationship would be hard to cover up.

But it’s the Native American issue that has the potential to create a Rachel Dolezal-type spectacle that will send Clinton’s campaign crashing to earth.

You may think the case against Warren is circumstantial. It doesn’t matter. Campaign vetters hate loose ends. Warren’s case has more loose ends than a bowl of spaghetti.

Warren’s defenders believe the issue was laid to rest when she beat Republican Scott Brown in the 2012 senatorial election. (Disclosure: I was a consultant to Brown in that race).

That’s like saying Chappaquiddick was neutralized as an issue for Senator Ted Kennedy because he won reelection in Massachusetts following the 1969 accident. In a national campaign, everything old is new again.

By itself, it doesn’t merit much attention that Warren could not produce any genealogical evidence or tribal affiliation to justify her self-identification as Native American beyond the “family stories” she heard as a young girl growing up.


So why does it matter?

Because in the academic world, where Warren used to dwell, colleges and universities are uniquely sensitive to the idea of creating opportunities for groups that have been historically underrepresented.

Warren was a Rutgers Law School graduate who held various teaching positions at public universities until she started to list herself as “Native American” in directories published by the Association of American Law Schools. From there, her career took off.

Warren attained a full professorship at the University of Pennsylvania. Then Harvard came calling, and she became the only tenured professor there who had graduated from a public law school. Harvard would go on to cite Warren in defending itself from charges the faculty lacked diversity.

Warren and her former colleagues insist her claim to minority status played no role in her rising career. Warren explained that she listed herself in the minority directories hoping “it might mean that I would be invited to a luncheon, a group, something that might happen with people who are like I am.”

To this day, Harvard refuses to release the personnel records that would settle the matter once and for all.

Even though she won election due to a heavy Democratic turnout, the controversy damaged Warren. She underperformed President Obama by 15 points, lost independents and, according to exit polls, ended up less popular on Election Day than her rival.


Last month, GOP Senator Ted Cruz pointed out the sacrifices he makes as a candidate for president, including having to put up with “constant attacks.” Warren tweeted that Cruz should stop “whining” and said she had two words for him: “Boo hoo.”

It’s a good thing she has such thick skin. If Warren joins the Democratic ticket, she will need it.

Eric Fehrnstrom is a Republican political analyst and media strategist, and was a senior adviser to Governor Mitt Romney.