For several weeks back in August and September, it really appeared as if Sen. Elizabeth Warren was heading toward an increasingly strong lead in the Democratic primary. She had managed to topple Bernie’s hold on second place, then managed to knock former vice president Joe Biden from the top spot in the RealClearPolitics polling average. Things were going well, for a short time, then something changed.
There are many theories floating around from Warren’s inability to solidify her support, to a resurgence by Sen. Bernie Sanders, voters deciding to look at different candidates, and other voters simply returning to Biden as a default.
There is one area, however, where NPR argues that Warren became out of sync with a good number of voters in her own party: Medicare For All.
By the time of the first primary debate, in June, she was firmly behind Medicare for All. “I’m with Bernie on Medicare for All,” Warren declared.
During this period, the Massachusetts senator also gained ground as the woman with a plan for everything. But she didn’t have her own plan for health care.
Sanders’ bill that Warren backed didn’t lay out for certain the details of how to pay for it. Rather, he had a list of possible options.
So Warren faced a new question, pressed most consistently by South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg. He chided her during October’s debate: “Your signature, senator, is to have a plan for everything. Except this.”
In addition, when asked about whether she’d raise taxes on the middle class to pay for the plan, Warren responded that costs wouldn’t go up — a move her opponents cast as evasive. Sanders said that taxes would go up on the middle class, while also promising that overall costs would go down.
The ironic part of the healthcare debate for Warren was that her lack of a plan was hurting her, so she signed on with Bernie’s Medicare For All mantra. After that, without good answers on how to pay for it and the appearance of evasiveness when questioned, her embrace of the plan quickly became a liability.
Without solid answers on how to pay for the chance, some Democrats seemed to inch back toward a less revolutionary feeling of simply improving the Affordable Care Act, leaving Warren holding the bag:
Voters like Nancy Lindberg are less sure. Standing in line for a photo with the [Warren], she said that she’s considering both Warren and Buttigieg. Lindberg added that health care is her top issue.
“I support universal health care,” she said. “I’m still bending toward the side of, we already have the ACA. Can that be improved upon? Do we have to throw that out to start all over again?”
When pressed with a binary choice of going all-in on another overhaul of the healthcare system by replacing private insurance with a universal Medicare For All plan, many voters simply aren’t ready for the transition, headache, and fight that such a change will bring about. Warren was unable to assuage those fears.
On the other hand, for a contrarian view, Politico is arguing that Warren’s dip in the polls is actually a great thing for her campaign since it now provides her a way to prove her resiliency to voters:
As Elizabeth Warren lately has been going down in the polls, if history is a guide, her chances of becoming the next president are going up.
Those chances probably were not as great as they seemed even when she was enjoying a wave of support last summer. The odds may still be pretty long now that she is confronting rivals in her own party and fighting hard to ensure that her 2020 campaign does not turn out to be a 2019 mirage.
The point is that those chances are better now than they were before — better now that her campaign seems suddenly tenuous, better that she has an opportunity to show in vivid and visceral ways that she is the real deal rather than a passing novelty.
The reasoning and historical wisdom in Democratic primaries say that Warren needs to avoid becoming a “flash in the pan” candidate spewing revolutionary ideas, but not being able to stick it out for the long haul and become a viable general election candidate.
There is a parade of modern candidates that fit the mold of what Warren must stay away from, according to Politico:
The great challenge of Warren’s campaign has always been to prove that she does not belong in a parade of high-concept Democrats that includes such figures as Howard Dean (2004), Bill Bradley (2000), Paul Tsongas (1992), Gary Hart (1984), Jerry Brown (1976, 1980, 1992), all the way back to Gene McCarthy in 1968.
The best way to separate from that parade is to wage a fight and win it, in a fashion similar to what Warren began doing this week. The point is not so much the fight as the opportunity to show another side of herself, and give a pathway to voters who have kept their distance so far.
In other words, Warren shouldn’t be pigeonholed as a single-issue candidate, nor should she be one which spews out lofty rhetorical goals that seem unattainable to a broad collection of voters.
On the Medicare For All debate, Warren became sandwiched in between progressive voters, who preferred Bernie’s approach since, after all, he “wrote the damn bill.” On the other side, some moderate Democrats who were considering Warren became turned off when she couldn’t own the issue with firm answers and provide a roadmap for making it happen.
In short, Warren is still a contender, but she has had some of her inflated worth as a candidate diminished back to “correction” territory where she has to work on being persuasive once again.
It’s arguable that being the front runner is the worst position since you have nobody in front of you to attack. Warren doesn’t have that “problem” anymore.