Spoiler Alert: Elizabeth Warren for President

Warren swears she’s not running for president. That may be true, but she’s sure doing a terrible job of it. The war for the soul of the Democratic Party is about to begin—right in our backyard.

The pressure is so powerful that it has led to the occasional paradox. In December, Howard Dean endorsed Clinton in a Politico op-ed, despite the fact that the grassroots progressive group he founded was simultaneously drafting Warren to run. Even in Warren’s inner circle of Boston-based donors and confidants, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who is ready to hand Warren the keys to the White House.

“I don’t think it’s going to happen,” says Doug Rubin, the Democratic strategist behind Warren’s Senate run, when asked whether the next Warren campaign he manages will be a presidential one. “I think Secretary Clinton has a tremendous amount of support in this state.”

And even Linehan—who speaks regularly with Warren both in her capacity as a Boston city official and as a private citizen, and worried that Warren would end up “in somebody’s trunk”—is on team Hillary. She believes the presidency is a role suited to centrist pragmatists. On her Democratic dream team, Clinton would take the Oval Office while Warren stayed in the Senate, where she could remain the standard-bearer of the left.

Oddly enough, the one major Massachusetts political figure who speaks positively about a Warren run for president is a man who hasn’t ruled out the possibility of running against her someday. Former Governor Deval Patrick, who may find himself locked out in the cold from the Clinton camp after his treasonous act of stumping for his friend Obama in 2008, maintains a warm relationship with Warren. Last summer, he and his wife, Diane, hosted Warren and her husband at their home in the Berkshires, where the couples “stayed out way later than people our age stay out,” Patrick says. While Patrick stops short of urging Warren to run, he does not want his party’s presidential primary to be a coronation. “[Warren is] a Democrat with a backbone who actually stands for something, with a set of core beliefs that she’s willing to lose an election for,” Patrick says, “and frankly, I think that’s a lesson for the whole party.”


Whatever hope remains that Warren will run in 2016 is for naught, because Elizabeth Warren is definitely not running for president. At least not right now, at this very moment, at noon, on December 15, in front of the Exchange Conference Center on the Boston Fish Pier.

That becomes clear as soon as she steps out of her black SUV into the winter sun above a giant banner strung up on the side of a shipping container that reads, “Dredge Boston 2014: Thank You.” As the sign suggests, she’s here to highlight federal funding for a project that will dredge Boston Harbor so it can accommodate the mega-ships that will soon start crossing an expanded Panama Canal on their way to the Eastern Seaboard. But the journalists in the press scrum around Warren aren’t here to ask about digging up harbor mud—they’re looking for dirt.

“Obviously the momentum is picking up for people to draft you to run in 2016,” one reporter tries. “Is it getting harder to ignore all the talk?”

“Nope. I am not running for president,” Warren replies.

“Are they wasting their time?” I chime in.

“I am not running for president. No means no.”

“There’s a headline that says that you haven’t said you’ve completely ruled it out…” ventures a third.

“Nothing has changed. I am not running for president.”

So there you have it: For the zillionth time, Elizabeth Warren is not running for president. She also consistently uses the present tense in her denials, semantics that the Draft Warren campaigners cling to. “I take her at her word that she is not currently running,” MoveOn.org executive director Anna Galland tells me. “I think there is still time to get into the race.”

There is some skepticism, even among her allies, that Warren would make a winning candidate, given her lack of experience on certain issues, including foreign policy. But as Lawrence Lessig, a professor at Harvard Law School and an anti-corruption crusader, points out, “It’s not that she’s ignorant of these issues. It’s just that she’s targeted on other issues. And I have no doubt that she would be outstanding on this, too, but I do have a question of whether the public can see that.”

In fact, many liberals—Warren likely among them—wonder whether a Warren run would be good for the public at all. If she ultimately did go all-in for the presidency, and managed to pull off a win, it would be all but impossible for her to continue to publicly eviscerate Wall Street and Republicans, as she did during her speech at the AFL-CIO last month when she railed, “it’s time to break up the Wall Street banks and remind politicians that they don’t work for the big banks, they work for us.” As things stand, Warren’s message resonates because she can let it rip without having to concern herself with the pesky realities and concessions of governing. Assuming the highest office in the land would likely water down Warren’s message to the point where everything progressives love about her would be washed away. As a potential candidate, however, Warren maintains her influence and place on the national stage regardless of who eventually moves into the West Wing. “I’ve never seen anyone in the position that Senator Warren is in that is just so mission-focused,” Rubin says. In the Senate, Warren can afford to nurse the single-minded drive of a muckraker in a way she couldn’t on the presidential stage.

Warren’s ultimate endgame is anyone’s guess, but 2016 sure could be a tough year for Democrats. Vice President Joe Biden can be counted on to crash and burn as soon as he opens his mouth, members of Congress will have a hell of a time getting anything done with the GOP finally in charge on Capitol Hill, and with progressives pulling her to the left, Clinton’s carefully calibrated centrism could come tumbling down, leaving the White House up for grabs, too. In some ways, though, it doesn’t really matter what happens: Elizabeth Warren is sure to come out a winner.

New England Politicos to Watch Out For

elizabeth warren
Deval Patrick
Is he running? Not yet.
Our recently departed governor has taken his talents to Cambridge as a visiting fellow at MIT. Will he follow his good buddy Barack and make a run at the Oval Office? “Maybe,” he told Channel 5 in the fall. But not, he claims, in 2016.


elizabeth warren
Bernie Sanders
Is he running? Definitely maybe.
He’s the longest-serving independent in Congress. The Daily Beast calls him the “socialist senator from Vermont.” And this guy’s gonna run? CNN says he’s “actively” considering it and will decide by March.


elizabeth warrenMitt Romney
Is he running? Yes.
Romney, January 2014, to the New York Times: “Oh, no, no, no. No, no, no, no, no. No, no, no.” Romney, January 2015, to a roomful of donors: “Go tell your friends that I’m considering a run.”


AP Photo/Steven Senne (patrick); AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin (romney); AP Photo/Toby Talbot (sanders)