The surge of Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has been predicated on one significant assumption: that she’s nothing like Hillary Clinton. Clinton, of course, managed to blow the most winnable presidential race in modern American history: facing off against a deeply unpopular challenger with enormous character flaws, she somehow managed to stumble into a popular vote victory and electoral college loss. That was due, broadly, to three separate factors: (1) Hillary was incredibly uncharismatic; (2) Hillary was perceived as too old for the job; (3) Hillary was perceived as supremely dishonest.
Warren is more charismatic than Hillary Clinton — although to be fair, it would be difficult to be less charismatic than Clinton. It’s true that her charisma is being massively overstated by a sympathetic media, who wish to portray her as a populist hero rather than as a chiding member of your local homeowners’ association. Still, she’s not nearly as soporific as Clinton, and she does have an answer to the question of why she’s running: to help push progressive causes. Sure, she didn’t make her bones as a down-the-line Sandersite, but she can play the part well enough.
Her energy level, too, is higher than Clinton’s — she won’t be stumbling into vans anytime soon, although she does dance like Elaine on Seinfeld. A new CBS News/YouGov poll shows that just 5 percent of Democrats worry about Warren’s age, despite the fact that she will be 71 by the time of the 2020 election.
All of which leaves the third factor in a Warren race: she must establish her honesty. This, it turns out, will be a tough sell. Not only did Warren falsify her family background, then take a DNA test proving that her Native American ancestry was effectively mythical, she has also radically shifted her own politics. She used to support school choice; no longer. She used to stump against complex regulation of the housing market; now she supports heavy subsidization of housing, as well as the sort of loosening of credit standards she used to decry. She used to stand against government subsidization of student loans, fearing correctly that such subsidies would drive up tuition prices; now she backs them, and wants to relieve student loan debt.
And she’s flipped on Hillary Clinton, too.
Back in 2003, Warren tore into Hillary for flip-flopping on a bankruptcy bill. In The Two-Income Trap, she described first meeting Hillary in the early Clinton administration, and being struck by Hillary’s supposed brilliance: “I have taught bankruptcy law to thousands of students – some of them among the brightest in the country – but I never saw one like Mrs. Clinton. Impatient, lightning-quick and interested in all the nuances.” Clinton supported Warren’s position, and lobbied to stop an “awful” bill.
Then Clinton flipped after becoming senator. Warren’s take: “The bill was essentially the same, but Hillary Rodham Clinton was not. Hillary Clinton could not afford such a principled position. Campaigns cost money, and that money wasn’t coming from families in financial trouble.” As Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post points out, Warren also ripped Clinton on Bill Moyers’ show in 2004:
Now, Hillary and Warren are buddy-buddy. According to NBC News:
The two women have kept a line of communication open since the Massachusetts senator decided to run for president — though only a conversation around the time of Warren’s launch has been previously reported — according to several people familiar with their discussions who spoke to NBC on the condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivity of private interactions.
Warren, it turns out, also hasn’t been forthright about her campaign donations. She’s made a big deal out of supposedly refusing large donations, and she says she’s small-donation funded. But as The New York Times reports, today, that simply isn’t so:
The open secret of Ms. Warren’s campaign is that her big-money fund-raising through 2018 helped lay the foundation for her anti-big-money run for the presidency. Last winter and spring, she transferred $10.4 million in leftover funds from her 2018 Senate campaign to underwrite her 2020 run, a portion of which was raised from the same donor class she is now running against. As Ms. Warren has risen in the polls on her populist and anti-corruption message, some donors and, privately, opponents are chafing at her campaign’s purity claims of being “100 percent grass-roots funded.” Several donors now hosting events for her rivals organized fund-raisers for her last year.
Warren, it turns out, is just as much of a political hack as Hillary ever was. The only difference is that Warren was once politically interesting.