Something is up. Someone has a new slogan. Obama’s Slogan was “Yes we can!” that wrapped up everything he was up to in three words. And that was enough. That felt right. John McCain had no slogan. There was nothing to feel, and four year later, Mitt Romany had no slogan anyone remembered. Obama still had his. Even after Obamacare, or because now there was Obamacare, there was work to do, still, to make things better for everyone, to keep things rolling. The old slogan still worked. That could be done. “Yes we can!” What was Romney offering? He was offering a question. “What about the rich people and corporations?”
That was the wrong question. That’s always the wrong question, but Donald Trump fixed that. He felt the same way but his slogan disguised that. His slogan was short and sweet – “Make America Great Again!”
There was no need to talk about worthy rich people and the undeserving poor. Things were awful. Things had been awful since 1953 – or 1927 – or 1858 – no one quite knows when. But he could fix it, whatever it was, and he alone could fix it – and those four short words were everything. Those four short words ended all argument. There was nothing more to say. Hillary Clinton, of course, never settled on a slogan. She was a policy wonk. She had ideas. She had deep legislative experience and even deeper diplomatic experience. She knew most of the world leaders. Yes, she was shrill and unpleasant, but she had all that – and Donald Trump had those four words. She was doomed.
And now Donald Trump may be doomed. He still has his four words, but now they sound like he hasn’t kept his promises. It’s been four years. America isn’t great yet? He needs new words.
Donald Trump may come up with the obvious – Keep America Great – but that seems a bit passive and more than a bit defensive. And he faces what he has not faced before, a simple deadly slogan, from a woman he despises. Elizabeth Warren has her slogan. She didn’t plan it. She just kept saying the words when she got excited – “I have a plan for that!”
That was just her enthusiasm. She thought nothing of it. Then people joked about how she kept saying that. Then people decided that was pretty cool. Trump never has any plans. He always said they’d come later, but they never came – but Warren is all plans. She’s thought about what to do and how to pay for it, for almost everything.
This might be a good thing. Others seem to think so. The Washington Post’s Isaac Stanley-Becker reports on what was once unthinkable:
Tucker Carlson of Fox News spent nearly three minutes of his opening monologue on Wednesday quoting verbatim from the economic plan unveiled this week by Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, the Democratic presidential aspirant.
But his intention was not to disparage it. Hardly. He told Republicans – who are the lion’s share of his viewers – that they were voting against their own economic interests by backing candidates who did not speak like the consumer protection advocate and former Harvard Law School professor.
“She sounds like Donald Trump at his best,” Carlson said, in a striking show of support for the liberal firebrand who recently accused him of propagating hate.
But it’s not as if he likes this woman:
Carlson had no shortage of criticism for other aspects of Warren’s candidacy. Still, their agreement on certain fundamental questions about the economy revealed something about each of them – and about the inchoate political realignment that has made it unclear to which party causes from free trade to privacy protection belong.
For Carlson, who recently refused to apologize after the liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America surfaced old recordings of him making racist and sexist remarks, the endorsement of Warren’s vision exemplified his efforts to distance himself from Republican orthodoxy at the very moment his network cleaves closer to the president. He has cast himself as a Trump-era populist truer to the creed than is the president himself, willing to speak hard truths to his own tribe, namely the Republican elite.
For Warren, the endorsement was a sign that her brand of economic populism – which is similar to that of a Democratic competitor, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont – has resonated with not just any exponent of the Make America Great Again agenda but the self-appointed spokesman of those drawn to Trump’s protectionist message.
And now she’s free:
Last month, Warren broke with other Democrats, including Sanders, in declining an invitation to appear at a presidential town hall hosted by Fox. She then proceeded to post images on Instagram of Carlson and other hosts behind an all-caps appeal to stop their “HATE-FOR-PROFIT FOX NEWS RACKET.”
Yet she is making a play for parts of the country as deeply associated with the president as is the network, the most watched on American cable. She drew applause recently in Kermit, W.Va., in a county where 4 out of every 5 voters voted for Trump in 2016. “I liked being in Kermit,” the senator said as she drove away.
At the same time, she hardly shies away from attacking the president. At an MSNBC town hall on Wednesday, Warren, who was the first presidential candidate to call for Trump’s impeachment, received a wave of applause when she claimed that he would be “carried out in handcuffs” if he were “any other person in the United States.”
And she hooked in Tucker Carlson:
While she was speaking on MSNBC, Carlson was on the rival network offering a “thought experiment” to demonstrate Warren’s appeal.
“What if the Republican leadership here in Washington had bothered to learn the lessons of the 2016 election?” asked the Fox host. “What if they’d understood, and embraced, the economic nationalism that was at the heart of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign? What would the world look like now, two and a half years later?”
One feature of such a world, he said, would be Republican leaders in Congress regularly “saying things like this.”
He proceeded to read, word for word, whole portions of “A Plan for Economic Patriotism,” Warren’s agenda for “aggressive intervention on behalf of American workers,” which she unveiled on Tuesday. The plan would create a new, cabinet-level Department of Economic Development and funnel $2 trillion into environmentally friendly industries, among other measures.
He was on a roll:
Carlson dwelt on her rhetoric. He quoted broadsides against American brands that host their production overseas. “Sure, these companies wave the flag, but they have no loyalty or allegiance to America,” the plan states.
It is just as harsh on politicians who enable outsourcing. “Politicians love to say they care about American jobs,” Carlson said, still quoting from Warren’s statement. “But for decades, those same politicians have cited ‘free market principles’ and refused to intervene in markets on behalf of American workers. And of course, they ignore those same supposed principles and intervene regularly to protect the interests of multinational corporations and international capital.”
Finally, the plan states that a change in priorities is required. “We can navigate the changes ahead if we embrace economic patriotism and make American workers our highest priority, rather than continuing to cater to the interests of companies and people with no allegiance to America,” the document notes.
“End quote,” Carlson concluded.
The host asked his viewers to consider whether they disagreed with any part of what he had just read. “Was there a single word that seemed wrong to you?” he mused. “Probably not.”
And then he dropped the bomb. That was Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. And this was close to an endorsement:
Carlson neglected to mention the emphasis Warren was placing on climate-friendly manufacturing, or the fact that the senator has, in addition to backing reparations for black Americans, put forward plans to address income inequality that experts say would narrow the racial wealth gap.
Nevertheless, Carlson said he was convinced by her pitch. Put simply, he said, her “policy prescriptions make obvious sense” – from her suggestion that the government should buy American products to her proposed investment in research and development.
“She sounds like Donald Trump at his best,” he said. “Who is this Elizabeth Warren, you ask? Not the race-hustling, gun-grabbing abortion extremist you thought you knew.”
She kept saying she had a plan for that, and for that other thing too, which Carlson noted was more than all of the Republicans for the last ten years have had about anything. He was impressed.
On the the other side of things, the Democratic side of things, Farhad Manjoo argues that Warren is more amazing than Carlson knows:
Elizabeth Warren is running the most impressive presidential campaign in ages, certainly the most impressive campaign within my lifetime.
I don’t mean that the Massachusetts senator is a better speaker than anyone who has ever run, nor a more strident revolutionary, nor as charismatic a shaper of her public image. It’s not even that she has better ideas than her opponents, though on a range of issues she certainly does.
I’m impressed instead by something more simple and elemental: Warren actually has ideas. She has grand, detailed and daring ideas, and through these ideas she is single-handedly elevating the already endless slog of the 2020 presidential campaign into something weightier and more interesting than what it might otherwise have been: a frivolous contest about who hates Donald Trump most.
In fact, she may be the only one with ideas:
Warren’s approach is ambitious and unconventional. She is betting on depth in a shallow, tweet-driven world. By offering so much honest detail so early, she risks turning off key constituencies, alienating donors and muddying the gauzy visionary branding that is the fuel for so much early horse-race coverage… yet, deliciously, Warren’s substantive approach is yielding results. Her plans are so voluminous that they’ve become their own meme. She’s been rising like a rocket in the polls, and is finally earning the kind of media coverage that was initially bestowed on many less-deserving men in the race.
But those days are gone:
Warren’s policy ideas are now even beginning to create their own political weather. Following her early, bold call to break up big technology companies, the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission are dividing up responsibilities on policing tech giants, and lawmakers in the House are planning a sweeping inquiry into tech dominance. Warren’s Democratic opponents are now rushing to respond with their own deep policy ideas; Joe Biden’s staff seems to be pulling all-nighters, cutting and pasting from whatever looks good, to match Warren’s policy shop.
Manjoo is impressed:
Whatever your politics, pull out your phone, pour yourself a cup of tea, and set aside an hour to at least read Warren’s plans. You’ll see that on just about every grave threat facing Americans today, she offers a plausible theory of the problem and a creative and comprehensive vision for how to address it.
This week, she unveiled a $2 trillion plan that combines industrial policy, foreign policy and federal procurement to tackle the existential threat of climate change. She also has a plan for housing affordability, for child care affordability, and for student debt and the crushing costs of college. She knows what she wants to do to stem opioid deaths and to address maternal mortality. She has an entire wing of policy devoted to corporate malfeasance — she wants to jail lawbreaking executives, to undo the corporate influence that shapes military procurement, and to end the scandal of highly profitable corporations paying no federal taxes. And she has a plan to pay for much on this list, which might otherwise seem like a grab-bag of expensive lefty dreams: She’ll tax ultra-millionaires and billionaires – the wealthiest 75,000 American households – yielding $2.75 trillion over 10 years, enough to finance a wholesale reformation of the American dream.
So something is up, because this is really quite new for the nation:
For a moment, it almost felt like I was living in a country where adults discuss important issues seriously. Wouldn’t that be a nice country to live in?
This race could have been about so much less. These days, all politics seem to narrow upon the orange pate of a single narcissistic man, and some Democrats have been keen to keep pounding that drum. To paraphrase a famous quip, there are only three things Joe Biden mentions in a sentence: A noun, a verb, and Donald Trump.
The only way to liberate ourselves from Trumpism is through politics that rise above Trumpian silliness. For that, for now, we have Elizabeth Warren to thank.
Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick agrees, but adds other context:
The photos were all over the internet on election night of 2016. They went viral in the bad way, and they all looked something like this: Women, standing in a crowd of other women, hands over their mouths, tears on their cheeks, as they realized that Hillary Clinton had lost to Donald Trump, the man who bragged about treating women like garbage. Those photos had come immediately on the heels of the other photos, also inescapable, taken earlier that day: Women posed outside of public schools, and churches, and rec centers, wearing pantsuits and beaming into the camera with elated looks that said, I just voted for the first woman to be president of the United States! That whiplash? That immense distance between the two sets of photos, between the historic, thrilling high of the morning and the gut punch of the night that followed? It’s a feeling millions of women have been processing ever since.
In all the soul searching that came in the months after November 2016, it didn’t take long for that feeling to turn into a question: Would it be insane to run a woman – any woman – against Donald Trump in 2020? As my friend Michelle Goldberg put it six months after Trump had won, “many American women want to break the male lock on the presidency, but they also want to save the republic, and it’s all too possible that those two goals are at odds.” We had all just witnessed a highly qualified woman lose the presidency to a carnival barker.
Why, with the stakes growing ever higher, would we even consider trying it again?
Elizabeth Warren is why:
A few months ago I started to notice a boomlet of sorts, women who were willing to fall in love with Warren – just as they had with Clinton – and women who feel that Warren alone can redeem the insult Clinton sustained. To be clear, Elizabeth Warren is not Hillary Clinton. Comparing them distorts and diminishes their unique accomplishments and formidable skills. And yet: Even taking into account the late-breaking Comey effect and the years of Clinton family baggage, it has always been utterly obvious that part of Clinton’s loss was due to misogyny – a misogyny that, if anything, has only become more apparent in the years since.
But now there may be hope:
At a mid-May campaign event in Fairfax, Virginia, I watched as Warren jogged out onto the stage and wheezed through the first few moments of her remarks. She has a big, forced window-washer wave, and as she launched into her prepared autobiography she referred to her father, over and over again, as “Daddy.” (I am not quite sure how we are supposed to be throwing off the patriarchy if we are still referring to our fathers as “daddies” into our late 60s.) But here is the part that is striking: Warren absolutely came alive when she started taking questions from her audience. Explaining incredibly complex policy problems in a perfectly coherent way turns out to be Warren’s superpower. And while I went in dubious that Warren’s policy-minded campaign could ever compete with the charisma-driven, Father-Knows-Best performances of presidential candidates from Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton, let alone the supercharged persona of Donald Trump, I realized that I was completely confused about the nature of political charisma itself.
It seems that Warren does have that:
Warren has been generating a constant stream of news, thanks to her capacity for releasing a detailed new policy initiative nearly every week and her willingness to, for instance, call Fox News “a hate-for-profit racket.” She took a strikingly strong stand on Trump and impeachment, linking him to the same system-wide corruption with which she had cudgeled Fox. And as one state after another passed abortion bans that were retrograde and cruel, Warren rolled out comprehensive abortion reforms that would bolster reproductive rights nationwide, even if Roe v. Wade were overturned by the Supreme Court.
Warren is, in brief, almost painfully serious precisely because she is banking on public seriousness, running on the notion that bread and circus have had their day, and it is time now to save the republic. Warren is hoping voters are willing to engage with a persona that is competent and sober, qualities they persistently say they value when speaking to pollsters but tend to reject in favor of charisma at the ballot box. But she is proof that competent and sober does not have to mean cold and impersonal on the trail.
And there may be something charismatic about “competent and sober” after all:
At the Fairfax campaign stop, Warren tells some thousand people who have shown up to hear her, a crowd visibly dominated by women, that her lifelong dream was to be a teacher – a dream she lived up to as a special education teacher and a law professor before becoming a United States senator and, now, a candidate for president. This is something some of the Warren think pieces tend to miss: Warren is an extraordinary educator. We misread her as a detached wonk when she’s actually a brilliant translator of complex ideas. Watching her on the stump, you come to realize that it’s not so much the fact that she knows a lot of technical and complicated things that truly excites her fans, it’s that she can explain them to you.
That’s a rare skill, but there’s more:
She isn’t trying to please the Unknowable American Electorate of 2020. She is just trying to answer whatever the questioner is asking in the moment. She knows how to subordinate her own narrative to that of the interlocutor, but she also knows how to use her narrative to empathize with a questioner’s individual concerns. Warren knows what it’s like to be poor. She knows what it’s like to be a paycheck away from insolvency. She knows what it’s like to have family members serve in the military. She knows what it’s like to love someone addicted to opioids. She understands how it feels to almost lose your house to foreclosure. This isn’t “I alone can fix it” stuff. It’s “let me help you fix it.”
That should worry Donald Trump. What’s he going to do, call her Pocahontas again? She may not care anymore:
Warren doesn’t seem to care much about being loved. She cares a lot about explaining where things fell apart. So her campaign goes to tiny blue-collar towns in tiny red states she cannot hope to win, and she talks about opioid addiction with Trump supporters who have never met a presidential hopeful and may never meet one again. The labor here is about connecting the dots more than lighting crowds on fire.
And that can be deadly:
Women are often told they react emotionally to candidates, while men are meant to admire and appreciate complex policy. Warren is disrupting that paradigm. She leans less on charisma or charm, or even emotion, than on that elaborate PowerPoint she keeps stowed in her head. It’s a different approach from the men out in front of her. A warm and effusive Joe Biden has been crowned the favorite without having to break a sweat. Bernie Sanders has long had some of the most loyal supporters around, in part because he is so unabashedly “himself.”
But the women who come to these early Warren rallies like being addressed by an adult as adults. At a time when America has devalued teachers, empathy, expertise, and planning for the future, Elizabeth Warren serves as one reminder of what we have lost.
But all of that can be fixed:
Elizabeth Warren can explain it, and has a plan for it, and believes she can fix it. It’s not glittery, and it may not make your heart beat faster in a stadium. But in a world of noise and bluster, her clarity has its own sort of charm.
And it’s possible that may take the country by storm. Donald Trump should be worried. She has a plan for that.