It seems odd to say, but Elizabeth Warren should have a bright political future ahead of her. A 70-year-old senator and former Harvard law professor, for whom politics is a second profession, could reasonably be looking onwards towards a comfy retirement out of the political spotlight, but Warren is an exceptional case.
Her presidential campaign was always limited to an outside chance. Brief frontrunner status in Autumn last year quickly diminished as she failed to capture a broader voting coalition than mainly well-educated, white, suburban voters, and opted for an ambitious but ultimately doomed strategy of treading a middle way between the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic party. Such a strategy was sensible practically but not politically, as it left her too bogged down in details and minutia to capture the imagination of either faction of the Democratic base.
This perceived weakness, however, reveals one of her greatest strengths moving forwards. While her image as a ‘policy-wonk Grandma’ couldn’t hold up in the white heat of presidential politics (regrettably so, as this lack of appeal is rooted at least somewhat in the subconscious sexism of much of the American electorate), it would thrive in the engine room of either a moderate or progressive administration, to craft the groundbreaking legislation that even the most centrist candidates had accepted is necessary moving forward. Let’s not get it twisted, any Democrat elected from the 2020 field would have one of the most progressive agendas in history. Whatever becomes of Bernie Sanders and the progressive movement he’s championed since mid-2015, his role in moving the democrats leftwards, towards the policy demands of the American people on issues of healthcare, gun control, immigration reform, the minimum wage, foreign wars and climate change policy, among many. Warren would be an indispensable ally to furthering these causes, no matter whose presidency it comes under.
Many have touted her as an ideal pick for Vice President in either a Biden or Sanders administration, but unfortunately these prospects look bleak. While she would excel in such a position, making it her own and using the platform to champion pragmatic progressivism, there are many barriers. Firstly, and most importantly, the motives for picking her as VP would be flawed at best. The VP pick has long been an exercise in tokenism by presidential candidates, a nod to a potentially insecure section of their voting coalition that the president would be ‘on their side’ (See also: Mike Pence in 2016 for the evangelical vote, Tim Kaine in 2016 for the white male vote, Joe Biden in 2008 for the older white vote). To see a woman of Warren’s expertise reduced to a hollow political gesture would be gruelling. While there is a place for positive discrimination in diversifying political representation, doing so in this way, and at a time when the ‘pink wave’ is gaining genuine momentum, would be a gross miscalculation.
As for which candidate would take her in a VP role, this too is unclear. All current indications suggest that Joe Biden is looking to use the political headwind of a diverse ticket to sure up his base and increase turnout to win down-ballot senate and house races (perhaps a miscalculation given that he already wins black voters by huge margins). Stacey Abrams and Kamala Harris, both African-American women, have been popular names, leaving Warren behind, despite her attempts to placate both moderate voters and candidates. As for Sanders, whose campaign is on the ropes anyway, with little chance that a VP pick can single handedly turn the tide, he has shown little indication of choosing her, and his voters would likely reject her selection anyway. Warren’s tepid advocacy of Medicare for All, public spat with Sanders over his alleged sexism and failure to endorse him upon dropping out showed, they believe, that she was never a true ally to the progressive cause. That bridge has been well and truly burned for Warren, partly through her doing, partly through the ideological puritanism of a vocal minority of Sanders supporters.
So with all that said, what is next for Elizabeth Warren? While a spot on either VP ticket looks unlikely, frontline politics remains her calling. She would be perfectly suited to a cabinet role, such as Treasury Secretary (the job which former hedge fund manager Steve Mnuchin is currently making a mockery of) where her expertise in commerce and finance can be used to rewrite the rules of the American economy to benefit the middle and working classes from which she rose.
Image: Flickr / Gage Skidmore