How Elizabeth Warren Will Play the Presidential Campaign

She'll do it from the sidelines, but a New Yorker profile reveals she still plans to have an impact.

Associated Press

Associated Press

The New Yorker published a buzzy profile of Senator Elizabeth Warren Monday, and it gives a lot of insight into how she plans to navigate the 2016 presidential campaign from the sidelines.

Though at 9,000 words, it focuses broadly on much of her life story, the piece is framed around her relationship to Hillary Clinton. Warren has, of course, declined to run against Clinton for president (then declined again, then declined several more times…), but the most memorable quote in the piece reveals that Warren still intends to have some impact on the race:

When I questioned her decision to skip the Presidential campaign, she snapped, “You think I’m not forcing a debate? Call me back in a year, and ask me what type of debate we’re having.”

For this reason, reporter Ryan Lizza calls the Warren “The Virtual Candidate.” Those such as the Boston Globe editorial board who have urged Warren to run for president have argued that even if she cannot be elected, a campaign will be the most effective way to have her voice and her issues heard. But Warren and her associates put forward a counterargument. By not running, she is forcing Clinton to adopt some of her tone and issues. Already, we’ve seen this bear out. Just days after Clinton announced her candidacy, she published an ode to Warren in Time magazine, calling her a “champion of working families and scourge of special interests.” Much of Clinton’s language in recent weeks has sounded reminiscent of Warren’s particular rhetoric. (“The deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top,” she says in her announcement video.)

What’s more, Warren seems to be playing the long game, one that focuses not just on having her issues heard during next year’s campaign, but also during a Hillary Clinton presidency. Warren recalls in her book The Two Income Trap that as first lady, Clinton worked with Warren to torpedo a bankruptcy bill. But a few years later, as a New York Senator with Wall Street donors, Clinton voted for a similar version of the law. Warren’s current strategy seems designed to prevent Clinton from talking one game during the Democratic presidential primary and playing another once elected to office and serving a broader political constituency. A Warren advisor speaking anonymously in the profile put it this way:

[S]he can get Hillary to do whatever the hell she wants. Now the question is, will Hillary stick to it if she gets in? But at the moment Elizabeth can get her on record and hold her feet to the fire.

Warren will likely still be a potent force should Hillary Clinton win the presidency. And if Clinton deviates from Warren’s positions, the Senator will be there to remind people, and she won’t have to do it as a defeated Clinton rival.