In what now seems like a distant memory from a parallel universe—one in which things were relatively normal and milk wasn’t a symbol of patriarchal oppression—Jeb Bush was supposed to fight Hillary Clinton for the presidency, and maybe even win.
He had it all, apparently. Name recognition. A decent background as governor of a crucial swing state. Oodles of cash. The backing of Conservative, Inc. And even an exclamation mark to denote the fizzing excitement of being, well, fun. Fun like dipping bread in water.
Perhaps not to everyone’s taste, then-candidate Donald Trump’s penchant for leadening opponents with pithy, and often withering, monikers proved far more effective than anyone in the civility set would like to admit.
After all, candidates are brands. And brands that collapse into laughing stocks are doomed.
That’s why “Low Energy Jeb” was so effective. Remember when, soon after Trump stamped him with the charge, Bush took to bouncing on stage as if saturated in caffeine? He never recovered.
Not to say that candidate Trump’s branding of opponents is the reason he is now president, but it worked. Perhaps the gobby genius of that jibe worked so well because it contrasted with Jeb’s synthetic attempt to infuse sugar into the bloodstream of his candidacy with that infernal exclamation mark.
Trump knows the game. American political culture has indeed coarsened. And his streetfighter tactics work, much to the dismay of political analysts, and those who make a living from focus-grouping candidates into establishment clones.
The Trump team is already giddy at the prospect of going up against another of those indelibly stamped with a Trump moniker. That of Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), or “Pocahontas,” as Trump revels in calling her.
Warren last week told reporters she would “take a hard look at running for president” once the midterms are over.
While that may elicit some laughs on the Republican side, such laughter is misplaced. Warren should not be the preferred Republican choice of Democratic nominee for 2020. Senators Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) or Cory Booker (D-N.J.) both skilled in beclowning themselves effortlessly, would be a better bet.
The histrionics of Harris and Booker during the Kavanaugh skirmish might have impressed their perma-rage base, but few outside of that claque. Warren, on the other hand, is no slouch. And it will take more than a moniker to beat her.
A populist before the populism was cool, Warren is best-placed to take up the mantle from the Bernie Sanders wing, and offer a compromise between the burn-it-all-down socialist sect on the Left, and Democrats whose only discernible goal is to end Trump.
For her part, Warren has ceaselessly attacked the main perpetrators of the 2008 financial meltdown, her schtick only dampened by the fact her party relies more on Wall Street cash than it likes to admit.
“Populist” might be a pejorative when his opponents use it to decry Trump, but when it is applied to Warren it naturally takes on its “acceptable” definition. Her long standing economic populism is a winner among voters who tell pollsters that the American Dream is a mirage. This is the kind of economic populism that can win in the Rust Belt.
Her speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, while a senate candidate, isn’t far removed from President Trump’s inauguration speech where he lambasted a self-serving elite.
“People feel like the system is rigged against them,” she said. “And here’s the painful part: They’re right. The system is rigged. Look around. Oil companies guzzle down billions in subsidies. Billionaires pay lower tax rates than their secretaries. Wall Street CEOs—the same ones who wrecked our economy and destroyed millions of jobs—still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors, and acting like we should thank them.”
Since then, Warren’s work has focused on restoring Glass-Steagall investment banking rules and breaking up banks she claims are still “too big to fail.” Unlike Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Harris, and Booker, Warren has a message other than “Look at me! I don’t like Trump!”
While arguably pale, she’s definitely not male like Joe Biden, whom Trump’s team are said to be worried most about.
Far from the confused and often impressive cluelessness of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Warren has what the Democrats’ great aerolite dope has not: a grasp of what leaves her mouth.
“Anyone who loves markets knows that for markets to work, there has to be competition. Today in America, competition is dying . . . concentration threatens our markets, threatens our economy, and threatens our democracy,” Warren said in 2016. These are not the words of an unelectable moonbeam socialist.
That’s not to say Warren is a shoo-in for the presidency. Trump’s economy rages on. Americans are enjoying what amounts to full employment. Wages are rising. The vastly improved U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal should stretch the good news further. And he has the advantage of incumbency, not forgetting his intestine refusal to lose.
But in today’s political climate, a lot happens in an afternoon, never mind two years. Warren’s natural kinship with #MeToo could bolster or blight her run.
After the febrile Kavanaugh hearings, polls are already showing a backlash is swelling against the Democrats and their weaponization of #MeToo. But Democrats aren’t done yet. A confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court would serve as a source of infinite grief to them and it could serve to generate both dollars and electoral momentum.
Warren, as you may have guessed, isn’t a fan of Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Telling reporters last week: “I watched that [hearing] and I thought, ‘Time’s up. Time’s up. It’s time for women to go to Washington and fix our broken government and that includes a woman at the top.”
I suspect she won’t be far off.
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