The End of Warren’s Gambit

Super Tuesday is on us, and only a fool or crazed propagandist would suggest they know how this will all play out. Biden’s strong performance in South Carolina shows that his base of geriatric support is hardly feeble. Bloomberg has been forced to retreat from the spotlight but is certainly plotting some sinister scheme in the shadows. And the lane of aesthetically hollow back-up Bidens that define the “moderate” channel of the Democratic Party has crisply defected behind Biden’s flailing journey.

While Bernie’s March is hardly over, we can confirm suspicions that the outcome of this primary will be decided in the margins. This puts all eyes on Warren, who risks spoiling the potential for a left-wing response to Trump’s Chaos Dynasty for the benefit of Hairy Joe. Save for some hair-brained, democracy undermining scheme to be hatched at the Convention, her shot at the presidency is over. The next steps of her campaign and its supporters may well determine the potential for an anti-capitalist movement to be realized.

A lazy political discourse suggested that the Bernie and Warren campaigns were one in the same. But while both desire radical governmental reform, they have always asserted distinct theories of change. Where Bernie argues that radical change is only possible through peaceful revolution, Warren’s Cabal has attempted to pitch that reform is possible through the frame of modern politics. Despite meaningless talk of “lanes,” Warren’s path to victory was always through voters that would have been otherwise inclined to support Biden, Bloomberg, Pete, or Amy. Where her theory was right, she would have found a way to coalesce support from those voters.

Despite some bad-faith mocking from a loud (and annoying) minority of Sanders supporters, this whole strategy might be under-appreciated. Where Bernie built a broader cultural context that justified radical change, Warren provided necessary artillery to beat back the pundit class’s obsession with the demand for policy details that don’t really matter. In this, Warren’s proposals have always given cover to Bernie, in that they showed the math to make these things work can be done, providing much needed credibility to his policies. But in the end, Warren’s strategy failed to build a bridge to reform-skeptic Democrats. While she was successful in coalescing the progressive elite of the party, her inability to outpace charisma deficient moderates torpedoed her entire approach to reform.

As the race went on, “Warren is pragmatic!” became distressingly falsifiable. Pragmatic policies are nothing but politico fanfic when they cannot be stuffed into an electoral payload. Where Bernie built a horizontally structured army of supporters around a broader cultural movement, no such structure was built around Warren or her campaign. Her cache is certainly large enough to muster sustained electoral entrenchment; but no clear movement capable of turning out voters when and where they were needed was ever realized.

Where did things go wrong? If I had to gesture at a specific event, I’d point back to January. I covered this previously, but a series of pointless tit-for-tats between grunts in the Bernie and Warren campaigns escalated into a larger argument about how and to what ends identity politics should be weaponized. This exploded with a she-said-he-said non-controversy around some remarks allegedly made by Bernie. This pointless accusation, uttered offhand by Warren to some staffers became inflamed by a national media temporarily bored of Hairy Joe and looking for some drama to keep eyeballs spinning.

Many have tried to assert that Warren insipidly planted this story in order to paint Bernie as an adjacent mysogynist. I don’t buy that. I propose an alternate reading. Bernie’s consolidation of the far-left, disaffected moderates and young voters forced the Warren camp to retreat to the language of identity politics to distinguish themselves. And this may have given some short-sighted staffers the gall to initiate this hastily organized, ill-implemented scramble.

Enter the mainstream news outlets, which on catching wind of this salacious gossip curated a media spectacle around it. In the debate that followed, CNN brazenly attempted to stoke this story by fanning flames between Sanders and Warren. Why a rumor was deemed worthy for discussion at a presidential debate is beyond the scope of this transmission, but mainstream news outlets do not operate on legitimate dissemination of information. They operate on creating spectacles to draw attention, which is then sold for cash to advertisers. Regardless, the whole affair seemed to catch Warren off-guard and off-message. It suggests that Warren and her campaign lacked the ability or capacity to confront or confound a lecherous press. Given previous failures in message control, it solidified assumptions that the campaign had little ability to manage its public perception.

The Warren Campaign, at every turn, failed to appropriately manage or curate this event. At that point, it became clear to me that Warren’s campaign had no clue how to package or sell identity politics in a way that wouldn’t seem shallow or pandering. But it also revealed just how bad the campaign was in calculating its most efficient tactic at any given point. Opening this front against Sanders only entrenched and emboldened his allies, tied Warren and her campaign to the sort of petty slights about personal identification that tends to haunt perceptions of left-wing politicians, and distracted attention away from the serious plans and bold reforms that Warren was running on in the first place.

Following this, Warren’s strength dissipated either to Bernie or, as I surmise, to the rogue’s gallery of charisma-deprived candidates that are exhausting the Democratic brand. This forced Warren to retreat from her message of bold reform to instead rely on a diverse posse of B-list celebrities and Very Progressive political organizations to build the veneer of an inclusive campaign. This is not to suggest that Warren’s coalition is lacking in honest and earnest support from many of the groups it is purporting to represent. But the failure to establish any clear backing from minority populations in early polling suggested that her campaign may have always been more aspirational than actual. This theory becomes hard to dismiss in observation of cross-tab results from IA, NH, NV & SC.

Following the South Carolina vote, Warren opened up a last-ditch effort on Bernie, painting herself pragmatic and Bernie implausible and polarizing. The attempt is not only transparently desperate, but shocking in its flippant denial of Bernie’s electoral successes. At best, this marks a sad, desperate end to what was an otherwise issues-driven campaign. At worst, this will only increase the transaction costs of consolidating the left-wing universe going forward. As this is being written, centrist stooges rally behind Hairy Joe as the left-wing alliance remains distracted and confused.

Bernie and Warren’s policy proposals are largely similar, marked more by differences in tactics rather than outcomes. If Warren voters are voting on pragmatism as they’ve purported all along, isn’t the best strategic option here to join ranks and solidify Bernie’s March? I have read that Warren’s insistence on staying in the race is some high-wire strategy to consolidate delegates to prevent voter defection to Biden. If this is the case, I see the game here and, well, ok I guess. But wouldn’t the resources of her campaign be better spent directly advocating for her supporters and allies to join ranks with Bernie? And what risks does this pose to the greater respect for the democratic process?

I have hopes that Warren and her allies may be able to bolster Bernie’s forces. But without significant intervention, the Warren Cabal may end up destroyed, demoralized, and incapable of redirecting its energy and support towards a broader left-wing alliance. The best option here would be for Warren to throw weight behind Sanders and join the cause. It would consolidate all of the left-wing heroes and organizations built over the past four years into a unified movement.

In any event, Warren’s campaign for president is effectively over, and so with it her theory that reform without revolution is possible. So Revolution it is. Let’s get to work.