War­ren un­nerves Repub­li­cans like no other

Lib­eral lacks aura of au­then­tic­ity

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY JAMES VARNEY

Many of the Democrats lin­ing up to take on Pres­i­dent Trump in 2020 are em­brac­ing a nearly iden­ti­cal plat­form of big in­creases in taxes and gov­ern­ment, but per­haps only one of them has an abil­ity to make con­ser­va­tives’ skin crawl.

That dis­tinc­tion goes to Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren, Mas­sachusetts Demo­crat, in ways it doesn’t for some of her cur­rent com­peti­tors or even more es­tab­lished lib­eral po­lit­i­cal stars such as Hil­lary Clin­ton or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“There’s no doubt El­iz­a­beth War­ren is a light­ning rod to con­ser­va­tives,” said Colin Reed, a Re­pub­li­can con­sul­tant who has tracked her career closely. “If you go back and look at her first cam­paign, in 2012, back then she was the tip of the spear for all the left-wing pop­ulism and now out­right so­cial­ism that has be­come main­stream in the Demo­cratic Party.”

What is it about Ms. War­ren that grates so, that com­pels one of the many nur­tur­ing Bos­ton me­dia out­lets to head­line an oth­er­wise sym­pa­thetic piece, “Why is El­iz­a­beth War­ren so hard to love?”

Per­haps it boils down to her con­spic­u­ous lack of that cov­eted mod­ern coin: “au­then­tic­ity.”

“She may not be the rad­i­cal she pre­tends to be, but Sen. War­ren has pre­tended to be a lot of things,” con­ser­va­tive writer Kevin Wil­liamson said.

Ms. War­ren’s some­times leaden po­lit­i­cal touch seemed to sur­face when she threw her hat into the pres­i­den­tial ring. First, there was the ob­vi­ously staged gag­gle with re­porters while out walk­ing her dog, and then came the scripted home video.

Ad­dress­ing lis­ten­ers from her kitchen, Ms. War­ren made it clear that she was eye­ing a 2020 pres­i­den­tial run. The video was re­leased less than two years af­ter her home­town Bos­ton Globe re­ported that she “re­peat­edly de­nied she is eye­ing a pres­i­den­tial run” and less than one month af­ter it ed­i­to­ri­al­ized that she shouldn’t.

Even some of Ms. War­ren’s sup­port­ers cringed at the video, which smacked of an at­tempt to cap­ture some of the so­cial me­dia magic that her younger Demo­cratic col­leagues such as Beto O’Rourke and Rep. Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez of New York have used to great ef­fect. But rather than skate­board­ing onto the scene or danc­ing in the halls, Ms. War­ren ap­peared in her mod­ern kitchen of­fer­ing a per­for­mance topped with a scripted, “I’m gonna get me a beer.”

It pro­vided de­li­cious fod­der for her crit­ics, who found it as phony and goofy as Michael Dukakis, an­other would-be pres­i­den­tial Mas­sachusetts Demo­crat, driv­ing a tank.

“No­body in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics has ex­pe­ri­enced a col­lapse in au­then­tic­ity like Liz War­ren,” a con­ser­va­tive colum­nist wrote in the Bos­ton Her­ald, mock­ing the Ivy League mil­lion­aire’s bla­tant at­tempt to seem hum­drum.

Ms. War­ren’s phony aura some­times threat­ens to eclipse the fact that she can’t be ac­cused of one of the tra­di­tional short­com­ings that dog politi­cians of all stripes. She is not a flip-flop­per: As Mr. Reed noted, she has been more con­sis­tently left-wing in her po­si­tions than Sen. Kirsten Gil­li­brand, New York Demo­crat. She is not a new­comer: She has been a na­tional fig­ure longer than Sen. Ka­mala D. Har­ris, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat.

Ques­tions of au­then­tic­ity

Ms. War­ren ap­par­ently irks Repub­li­cans be­cause of her per­sona as much as her po­si­tions.

Most in­fa­mous is her as­ser­tion of Amer­i­can In­dian an­ces­tors and her long-term pose as a “woman of color,” career moves that earned her the nick­name “Poc­a­hon­tas” from Mr. Trump. Her back­ers dis­miss at­tacks against her on those grounds as race-bait­ing and false, but Van­ity Fair grudg­ingly con­cluded that they are valid and noted her claims “can be traced back more than 30 years.”

Ms. War­ren listed her­self as a mi­nor­ity in 1986, early in her aca­demic career at the Univer­sity of Texas and Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia. Her Amer­i­can In­dian cook­book recipe was sub­mit­ted as “El­iz­a­beth War­ren, Chero­kee,” and even be­fore Har­vard Univer­sity claimed her as an ex­am­ple of their mi­nor­ity hir­ing, she was show­cased as a “woman of color” in the school’s Women’s Law Jour­nal.

Her left-wing col­leagues in academia in­sist her claims to Amer­i­can In­dian her­itage did not fac­tor in her rise to fac­ulty star­dom, and while that sat­is­fied out­lets such as the Bos­ton Globe and Van­ity Fair, the lat­ter ac­knowl­edged the tales “do come off as a lit­tle weird, wor­thy of fur­ther in­spec­tion and kitchen ta­ble con­ver­sa­tion.”

Ms. War­ren’s pub­li­cized ef­fort to lay the mat­ter to rest called into ques­tion her re­tail skills, given she re­leased a DNA test on the eve of the Novem­ber midterm elec­tions that showed a tiny frac­tion of Amer­i­can In­dian blood. Other Democrats, who wanted the party united against Mr. Trump, groaned that her tim­ing smacked of op­por­tunism.

Plus, it didn’t work. Mr. Trump and Ms. War­ren’s po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­saries chor­tled that the trace of an­ces­try un­der­scored the shame­less­ness of the en­tire claim, and her low-key ef­fort to apol­o­gize to the Chero­kee na­tion showed that Ms. War­ren is still feel­ing the po­lit­i­cal fall­out.

Her more re­cent ef­forts to align with Amer­i­can In­di­ans also cost her with con­ser­va­tives. She has not deleted her sup­port for Nathan Phillips, the Amer­i­can In­dian whose false ac­count of the in­ci­dent at the Lin­coln Memo­rial be­tween him and Ken­tucky high school stu­dents last month set off a so­cial me­dia firestorm.

“Omaha el­der and Viet­nam War veteran Nathan Phillips en­dured hate­ful taunts with dig­nity and strength,” reads Ms. War­ren’s still-ex­tant tweet de­spite ev­i­dence that Mr. Phillips en­dured no taunts and never served in Viet­nam.

It is not only her at­tempted cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion that has raised eye­brows about her au­then­tic­ity. When the #MeToo move­ment took wing two years ago, Ms. War­ren be­gan em­bel­lish­ing a story that had long cir­cu­lated about her time at the Univer­sity of Texas, ac­cord­ing to Mas­sachusetts and other me­dia out­lets.

What had been de­picted by her as a hu­mor­ous, if ill-ad­vised and goat­ish, at­tempt by a law school dean to flirt with her be­came a nerve-wrack­ing or­deal of near sex­ual as­sault in Ms. War­ren’s new telling.

The in­ci­dents have com­bined to make Ms. War­ren a po­lar­iz­ing fig­ure, as the speed and vol­ume of re­sponses to a re­cent in­for­mal poll she con­ducted proved, said Nancy Boc­skor, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Women in Pol­i­tics & Pub­lic Pol­icy at Texas Woman’s Univer­sity.

“It was pretty amaz­ing,” Ms. Boc­skor said. “It may be true she fell into a ‘Trump trap’ on that DNA is­sue, but by and large most of the com­ments were that she lies about it. Peo­ple see her as an elit­ist who cheated the sys­tem, and she is per­ceived to have a sanc­ti­mo­nious at­ti­tude which hurts her whole ‘lik­a­bil­ity’ fac­tor.

“I can’t think of a thing ‘ lik­able’ about Don­ald Trump, but that doesn’t seem to be a fac­tor with him like it does with El­iz­a­beth War­ren,” she said. “I still think Hil­lary Clin­ton is the most po­lar­iz­ing Demo­crat, but peo­ple see War­ren as al­ways rail­ing against in­come in­equal­ity when she sits there in the 1 per­cent, and they find that disin­gen­u­ous.”

Lov­ing gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion

Ms. War­ren is a stri­dent lib­eral, hec­tor­ing reg­u­la­tors for in­suf­fi­cient zeal and vow­ing to boost tax rev­enue and gov­ern­ment power in all ar­eas.

She is an equal op­por­tu­nity at­tacker when it comes to ac­cus­ing gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tors of be­ing too soft a touch. Ms. War­ren has shown a will­ing­ness to at­tack for­mer Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials just as vo­cif­er­ously as their Re­pub­li­can coun­ter­parts if she thinks they may be tak­ing a vel­vet glove rather than an iron fist to their reg­u­la­tory du­ties.

For­mer Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Ti­mothy Gei­th­ner and suc­ces­sive Wells Fargo CEOs have felt Ms. War­ren’s wrath when quizzed about what hap­pened to pub­lic money or pri­vate busi­ness prac­tices.

Her love for gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion was ev­i­dent even be­fore she ran for elected of­fice. Her first foray into pub­lic life was her work to cre­ate the Con­sumer Fi­nan­cial Pro­tec­tion Bureau, an agency cre­ated af­ter the 2008 fi­nan­cial cri­sis that she said would pro­vide a bul­wark against un­scrupu­lous busi­ness prac­tices. Con­ser­va­tives see as a kind of reg­u­la­tory in­qui­si­tion be­yond po­lit­i­cal con­trol.

Thus far, the CFPB has with­stood le­gal chal­lenges to its ex­is­tence, but con­ser­va­tives were able to block Ms. War­ren from get­ting be­hind the wheel of her cre­ation. Pres­i­dent Obama, know­ing con­gres­sional op­po­si­tion was too strong, never nom­i­nated Ms. War­ren as head of the CFPB, which the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has worked to de­fang.

‘Po­lit­i­cally scary’

Ms. War­ren’s en­tire pack­age — the in­de­fati­ga­ble backer of gov­ern­ment power, a class war­rior from a priv­i­leged po­si­tion and her du­bi­ous claim to cul­tural pedi­grees — is a kind of per­fect storm for her con­ser­va­tive op­po­nents.

Just how for­mi­da­ble her pres­i­den­tial run may be is hotly de­bated. In a Jan­uary snap­shot, FiveThir­tyEight iden­ti­fied sev­eral is­sues with a War­ren can­di­dacy, not the least of them is she un­der­per­formed in her home state the most of all 2018 in­cum­bents, ac­cord­ing to their cal­cu­la­tions.

“She’s ob­vi­ously had her eye on the White House from the mo­ment she ar­rived, but I do think her mo­ment has passed,” Mr. Reed said. “She should have gone in 2016; now there’s limited space for her in that left lane.”

Ms. War­ren is hardly the first politi­cian to in­sist they are not seek­ing a seat and then turn around and seek. If Mr. O’Rourke throws his hat into the ring, she won’t even be the only Demo­crat to do so in next year’s pri­maries. But her sup­pos­edly spon­ta­neous burst, “I’m gonna get me a beer” in her video struck many view­ers as phony.

That in­au­then­tic qual­ity, which has haunted Ms. War­ren for years, stands in marked con­trast to her po­lit­i­cal skills in per­son, ac­cord­ing to her sup­port­ers. They in­sist Ms. War­ren has that price­less abil­ity to “win the room” when she is given the chance.

“She is the most electable can­di­date in the sense she is au­then­tic when it comes to peo­ple re­ally be­liev­ing she is on the side of ev­ery­day peo­ple,” said Adam Green, a co-founder of the Pro­gres­sive Change Cam­paign Com­mit­tee, who said he has watched Ms. War­ren per­suade rooms that weren’t ini­tially warm to her from Iowa to Cape Cod.

“What makes Repub­li­cans go crazy is she pushes new, bold ideas into the main­stream, and that messes with their com­fort level,” Mr. Green said. “The wealth tax on bil­lion­aires, ex­pand­ing So­cial Se­cu­rity — she’s sur­gi­cal in the fights she picks, and as that drives both Democrats and in­de­pen­dent working-class votes, it makes her po­lit­i­cally scary to Repub­li­cans.”

She doesn’t “as­pire to be a bi­par­ti­san uniter,” Bos­ton mag­a­zine said in 2017. “She’s an ad­vo­cate for her spe­cific is­sues, not a master leg­is­la­tor or deal­maker.”

Ms. War­ren, who will be 71 on Elec­tion Day 2020, adopts a stance like that of for­mer pres­i­den­tial hope­ful John Edwards as a cham­pion of Amer­ica’s hard­scrab­ble and mid­dle class. She does so with a net worth north of $3.7 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to the low end of her eco­nomic state­ments. She does so from a home she shares with her sec­ond hus­band, fel­low Har­vard Law School pro­fes­sor Bruce Mann (Ms. War­ren kept the sur­name from her first mar­riage), in Cam­bridge, Mas­sachusetts, that the real es­tate site Zil­low es­ti­mates is worth four times the me­dian price in that city.

But that af­flu­ent life­style, which ranks her among the top 15 per­cent in Congress by wealth, is noth­ing like the lav­ish homes and the many mil­lions of dol­lars that swell the bank ac­counts of Mrs. Clin­ton and Mrs. Pelosi.

“For many con­ser­va­tives, War­ren is the sym­bol of ev­ery­thing they don’t like: a Har­vard pro­fes­sor who is to the left of Barack Obama,” said Ron Faucheux, a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst in Wash­ing­ton. “Her phi­los­o­phy flies in the face of con­ser­va­tives who want smaller gov­ern­ment and fewer reg­u­la­tions. The com­bi­na­tion of that plus the DNA mat­ter has turned her into a rich tar­get for Repub­li­cans.”


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