President Trump refers to Stormy Daniels — a porn star who said she had sex with him while he was married to his current wife, Melania — as “horseface” and continues his stomach-turning coddling of Saudi Arabia. The political world shrugs or mildly protests.
Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts releases results of a DNA test showing she likely has some Native American ancestry, dating back six to 10 generations. She’s attacked from right to left — from Senator Lindsey Graham to Barack Obama’s former campaign manager to the Cherokee Nation.
Unfair? Sure. But to paraphrase John F. Kennedy, that’s life. While it’s too soon to say a 2020 run is over for Warren, the backlash to her genetic news should have Democrats thinking: Do they really want two more years of this? They can’t afford to repeat their big mistake of 2016, when they allowed Hillary Clinton to argue her e-mail was no big deal. Unfairly or not, it was.
This time around, Democrats should be as ruthless as Bill Belichick when it comes to culling prospects. For details of what that means in football, read Ian O’Connor’s book on the head coach of the New England Patriots. In the quest for victory, quality players are brutally cut.
During a Tuesday meeting with the Globe editorial board, Warren said she rolled out her DNA test results as soon as she got them, to promote openness and light. It’s also true that as she runs for reelection to the Senate, Trump’s mockery of her as “Pocahontas” has continued. Surely, as she also said, she has the right to fight back. But while pushback from Trump was expected and even welcomed, Warren seemed unprepared for criticism from the left and unsettled by it.
Against Trump, the master of darkness, there could be benefit in “weaponizing transparency,” as Time magazine describes it. But so far, Warren has yet to realize it.
Warren posted 10 years’ worth of state and federal tax returns, while Trump refuses to release any of his. Meanwhile, what has been uncovered so far by The New York Times about Trump family finances should outrage every American taxpayer.
But so far, Trump’s base holds, no matter what he does, whether it’s insulting women or giving a pass to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman regarding the disappearance of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi. Even beyond his base, can Trump shock anyone anymore? First, as a candidate and then, as president, he normalized outrageous behavior.
Meanwhile, progressives and conservatives are united in outrage over Warren’s DNA results. Warren offered information that essentially confirms that somewhere in her past she likely had a Native American ancestor. That does not make her Native American, and her problem is that she listed herself that way several decades ago in a legal directory. Two law schools where she taught also listed her as Native American. The DNA test doesn’t really help her on that score.
She said she didn’t use that claim to further her legal career and the evidence shows that law schools didn’t hire her because of it. Facing a storm of criticism over the DNA findings, she now acknowledges “a distinction between citizenship and ancestry” and wishes she had been more “mindful” of that.
Judging from the response to my last column defending her, people don’t buy Warren’s explanation, and belated regrets won’t change that. Many Warren critics would never vote for a candidate as liberal as she is, anyway. But some progressives are also angry at her, because they fear the timing of her DNA announcement will rile up the Republican base in the run-up to the midterm elections. Some Native Americans also consider her guilty of cultural appropriation. If the “Pocahontas” slur hobbles Warren beyond Trump’s base, it’s a problem. And it looks like it might be.
Crazy — isn’t it? — to think that checking a so-called box so many years ago casts a darker cloud on Warren than the web of deceit that engulfs every aspect of Trump’s life. Sexism does play a role in it. While Trump routinely bullies his way past the critics, Warren is called out simply for standing up for herself.
She’s super smart and super tough. That’s the real story of Warren’s professional success. But it has been overshadowed by the narrative written by detractors, that she got somewhere she didn’t deserve by cheating and lying. That accurately describes Trump, but he has paid no price for it.