Minh Yin is a junior history major.
On July 30, the second round of Democratic debates took place in Detroit. During the debate, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney had an exchange with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren that, to me, embodied the struggle of the Democratic primary.
Throughout the night, Delaney frequently criticized policies proposed by Warren, calling ideas such as medicare for all “impossible promises” and “more free stuff.” His assertion was that Democrats need “real solutions, not impossible promises” to win, rather than Warren’s “fairy tale economics.” Delaney argued that these policies simply aren’t realistic, and Democrats need to focus on policies that are cautious and not so radical.
When asked for a response by moderator Jake Tapper, Warren said, “I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for. I don’t get it.”
Whether intentionally or not, Warren is alluding to a question that has plagued political parties for years: what kind of candidate should we support? Should we support a moderate candidate who claims they are more electable, someone who runs because they can only appeal to voters but don’t have much of a vision? Or someone who follows their far-reaching ideals?
Here’s my answer: like in the cases of several Democrats before her, Warren’s commitment to her “controversial,” progressive ideas may be what wins her the primary.
Warren is running on a populist campaign dedicated to creating “sweeping, structural change” in order to provide greater economic opportunities to working-class Americans, which she would achieve through policy initiatives such as providing medicare for all and expelling all student debt. She has also committed herself to rooting out corruption in our government by taking actions like banning foreign governments from hiring lobbyists and preventing lobbyists from having regulatory jobs.
Warren’s commitment to her “controversial,” progressive ideas may be what wins her the primary.
Similar to then Sen. Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, Warren is positioning her campaign as an insurgency against the party’s establishment — in Obama’s case, the establishment was symbolized by Hillary Clinton. In Warren’s, by former Vice President Joe Biden. By pushing her policies, like medicare for all, against what most Democrats are advocating for, she is pushing against her party’s current. This is just what Obama did when he pushed for increased dependence on renewable energies at a time when it was not considered a top priority for most Democrats.
However, as demonstrated by Obama in 2008, winning the Democratic nomination on a progressive platform is largely dependent upon gaining both popular support and party support. Progressive candidates who were unable to receive both types of support have previously failed in obtaining the nomination — the most obvious example of this is Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign in 2016. Sanders became popular by standing behind his progressive policies and organizing his supporters on a massive scale, but did not obtain any valuable endorsements from the Democratic Party. As a result, he remained an outsider that seemed to threaten the establishment. In contrast, Obama was endorsed by then Sen. Ted Kennedy, and this support helped to fuel the momentum that eventually landed him the party nomination.
Warren has not gained any endorsements from senators besides her states’ junior senator, Democrat Ed Markey. To further her rise, she will have to make inroads into the party’s establishment and gain more endorsements. However, I believe that gaining broader party support hasn’t been a priority in her campaign because she is depending on the idea that an ardent passion for her policies will overcome political calculus — in other words, it’s her “controversial ideas,” which seek to right economic injustices and provide medicare for all, that make her popular. According to her steadily increasing polling numbers as reported by The New York Times, she may be right.
… in other words, it’s her “controversial ideas,” which seek to right economic injustices and provide medicare for all, that make her popular.
Warren is hyper-competent and dedicated, with a campaign built on the optimistic faith that the U.S. is made up of hardworking people who want their neighbors to thrive — a stark contrast to President Donald Trump’s characterization of the country as being one full of hate. In order for her gamble to pay off in winning the presidential nomination, voters will have to trust her message, and therefore each other, as much as she trusts them.