If you’re a liberal, you may have felt a disturbance in the Force Wednesday, as if millions of voices cried out at once, and then jizzed into millions of pants. At least one Alaskan salmon was even affected. That disturbance came courtesy of Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who was asked about her recent private meeting with Vice President and potential presidential candidate Joe Biden. The fireworks started with Warren’s conspicuous non-answer about the intriguing possibility of a Biden-Warren ticket, and finished with Warren’s refusal to pledge that she’d serve her full six-year senate term:
Was there any talk of a joint ticket, even jokingly?
(pregnant pause) “It was a long conversation.”
Warren does, of course, have a history of getting cute with this sort of question. You may recall that a few months ago, she caused a stir by implying that the issue of the Trans-Pacific Partnership might jar her into reconsidering a White House bid. In that case, though, there was a clear policy objective in mind. This didn’t feel like that. Bernie Sanders has already succeeded at injecting most of Warren’s policy priorities into this race. This felt like Warren trying not to say something that wasn’t true.
As it begins to look more and more likely that Vice President Biden will jump into the race, the prospect of a Biden/Warren unity ticket has broad appeal among varied factions of the non-Hillary left. One of the key arguments against a Biden run has been his polling deficit with Hillary, which is in the mid-twenties on a good day.
Biden could likely close that gap significantly on his own just by announcing, but adding Warren could help him siphon points away from Sanders, as well as from Hillary. The presence of Warren on the ticket could also mitigate resentment from women voters over the abandonment of Hillary Clinton’s historic quest to be the first woman president, as well as paper over some of Biden’s deficits with the left.
More importantly, such a primary ticket could unite two Democratic factions that have become bitterly divided during the campaign thus far. The Bernie Sanders Wing, which is just the Warren Wing with worse hair, has been in something close to open warfare with the Obama coalition, first over the bad blood feud about trade, and then over the #BlackLivesMatter movement. That conflict notwithstanding, Obama supporters aren’t exactly stuck like glue to Hillary Clinton, who dug herself a deep hole with them in 2008. Hillary has made significant inroads this time around, but her grip on that coalition is tenuous.
Biden, on the other hand, is beloved by Obama supporters, a fact that covers up a host of ills that might otherwise hurt him, like his authorship of the crime bill that Hillary Clinton has been taking so much guff over. Even without Elizabeth Warren or an official campaign announcement, Biden is already outpolling Hillary Clinton in head-to-heads with Republicans.
Things get a little trickier for the Biden/Warren ticket once you get to a general election, however. In a perverse way, Donald Trump has paved the way for Biden by effectively nullifying the Veep’s greatest liability, his gaffe narrative. Warren could be a benefit in the general as a historic candidacy and flair for economic populism, but substantively, the narrowness of her political strengths could be a liability. The average voter might feel very strongly that Elizabeth Warren is in their corner economically, but will they want her to run the army if called upon to do so?
There’s also a possibility that a Biden/Warren general election ticket sends a good chunk of Hillary lifers over to the other side, depending on who the Republican nominee turns out to be. For a certain type of alienated Hillary voter, something like a Jeb Bush/Carly Fiorina ticket could be a powerful lure.
One thing is for sure, though, and that’s that the promise of a Biden/Warren ticket would be a major headache for Hillary Clinton, whose campaign is already mired in the muck of the media’s email “scandal” coverage. She’s still got big leads over her competitors, but they’re moving in the right direction. Team Hillary needs to figure out how to turn things around, because the way things are looking now, the mud;’s about to get a lot deeper.
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