With Sights on 2020, Elizabeth Warren Tries to Woo Progressives

Formerly a Clinton supporter, the senator is increasingly using populist rhetoric

Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks with Sen. Bernie Sanders in the background. Win McNamee/Getty Images

When Sen. Bernie Sanders‘ began to emerge as a viable contender for the Democratic presidential nomination during the primaries, Sanders supporters expected that Sen. Elizabeth Warren would be one of the few Democrats in office who would endorse him. Warren is often seen in tandem with Sanders in the Senate, leading the fight for economic justice and against the greed and excess of Wall Street. Sanders supporters waited and waited for her endorsement. Even after Rep. Tulsi Gabbard boldly resigned as DNC vice chair to endorse Sanders, Warren continued to sit silently. Her endorsement never came. Instead, she waited until the Democratic primaries ended to formally endorse Hillary Clinton. Her endorsement was exclusively announced in an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and was touted by Clinton supporters as a final nail in the coffin to Sanders’ candidacy.

Since the primaries, Warren’s rapport with progressives has continued its downward trajectory. During the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, Warren ignored progressives despite her history of claiming Native American ancestry based on anecdotal evidence from her grandmother. Even after the general election, when the political risk of taking a position on the pipeline waned, Warren stood on the sidelines until the Army Corps of Engineers made the decision to temporarily halt the pipeline’s construction.

After Clinton lost the general election, Warren joined the Democratic Party in defending Clinton instead of providing constructive criticism for what went wrong for Democrats. Finally, in April 2017, Warren noted in an interview with USA Today that the blame for Clinton’s election loss lies not just with Clinton, but with all Democrats. “It’s all of us,” she said. “We have to bear responsibility for that…We didn’t get out there and fight hard enough.”

In a recent interview with the Guardian, Warren lent rare criticism toward former President Barack Obama and Democrats by hitting a note similar to the brand of economic populism that made Warren famous as a popular progressive voice. “I think President Obama, like many others in both parties, talks about a set of big national statistics that look shiny and great but increasingly have giant blind spots. That GDP, unemployment, no longer reflect the lived experiences of most Americans,” she said. “And the lived experiences of most Americans is that they are being left behind in this economy. Worse than being left behind, they’re getting kicked in the teeth.” Warren added that while Republicans have embraced wealth and power over voters, many Democrats have done the same. Warren’s rhetoric is much needed within the Democratic Party, which has been abrasive toward any push for reform. However, she still has a long way to go to win back the support of progressives whose support she has lost.

Several polls have cited Sanders as the most popular politician. One of the most recent polls conducted by Morning Consult puts Sanders’ favorability at 75 percent and Warren’s at 56 percent. This gap likely stems from Warren’s recent record of silence rather than taking strong, principled stances. It remains to be seen if Warren will embrace populist rhetoric and begin to adopt progressive stances, such as disavowing donations from Super PACs. In 2016, a pro-Warren Super PAC, Level the Playing Field, raised $1.6 million, and a PAC run through MoveOn.org has raised over $300,000 for Warren during her Senate career, according to Open Secrets. Though Warren has dodged questions about a potential 2020 run for president, she is widely expected to be in the field of contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination. Though Warren is making efforts to win back progressives’ support, she will need to run a grassroots fueled presidential campaign to win the primaries and defeat Trump. There are still many questions regarding how progressive she will actually turn out to be.