Column: Forget it, liberals: Elizabeth Warren is not running for president

Last fall when People magazine asked Elizabeth Warren whether she would run, the senator "wrinkled her nose," the magazine reported, and said, nondefinitively: "I don't think so...."
Last fall when People magazine asked Elizabeth Warren whether she would run, the senator “wrinkled her nose,” the magazine reported, and said, nondefinitively: “I don’t think so....”
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

Sorry to break the bad news to all you dreamy-eyed liberals, but it’s time to stop wishin’ and hopin’: Elizabeth Warren isn’t running for president. Really and truly.

Progressive Democrats have bombarded her office with postcards, signed online petitions and stood in the snow waving signs to get the junior senator from Massachusetts to run.

Warren didn’t do much to encourage all this attention. Last fall when People magazine asked whether she would run, the senator “wrinkled her nose,” the magazine reported, and said, nondefinitively: “I don’t think so....” She then added, “If there’s any lesson I’ve learned in the last five years, it’s don’t be so sure about what lies ahead.... There are amazing doors that could open.”


Since then, though, Warren repeatedly has slammed one door shut. “I am not running for president,” she’s said over and over. She’s pledged to serve her full term in the Senate through 2018. Of course, hardly anybody believes what a politician says, especially on the subject of career ambition. When Barack Obama arrived in the Senate in 2005, he too said he had no plans to run for president.

But over the last few months, Democrats who do politics for a living have concluded Warren really means it based not on what she’s said, but on what she’s done — or, more precisely, left undone. “She isn’t traveling to Iowa or New Hampshire,” Democratic strategist Tad Devine noted. “She isn’t putting together a team of people to build an organization…. This is a case where no means no.”

Why won’t Warren run?

A challenge to Hillary Rodham Clinton would be a grueling battle against tall odds. In national polls, Clinton wins the support of about 60% of Democrats, against only 11% for Warren. A face-off also would pit the Democrats’ two most prominent women against each other. “It would be a bad day for Emily’s List,” said one Democratic operative.

Warren is fiery about her favorite causes — such as reducing the influence of Wall Street banks — and yet that’s not the same fire in the belly required to run for president. She describes herself as an outside agitator, not a deal-maker, and you can’t be an outsider in the Oval Office.

Last year she fought the Obama administration and her own party’s Senate leadership to block the nomination of a former investment banker as undersecretary of the Treasury, and won — although the nominee, Antonio Weiss, got a job that didn’t require Senate confirmation. She’s already signaled her opposition to President Obama’s desired trade agreement with 11 countries around the Pacific.

That’s why Warren is not running. But why has she been less than definitive? I suspect it’s because being considered a potential presidential candidate is a surefire way to get attention from the media for her causes and ideas. When Warren gave a speech to the AFL-CIO last month demanding legislation “to break up the Wall Street banks,” it won far more coverage because she might some day run for president.


There’s one quick way to stop all the speculation: Warren could formally endorse Hillary Clinton.

On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that a secret meeting happened between the two in December. Clinton’s aim, the paper said, was “to cultivate the increasingly influential senator” — but she didn’t ask explicitly for Warren’s endorsement.

It’s going to be an interesting courtship given their prickly history. A 2003 book Warren co-wrote tartly denounced Clinton for failing to oppose bankruptcy legislation promoted by big banks: “As First Lady, Mrs. Clinton had been persuaded that the bill was bad for families. As New York’s newest senator, however, it seems that Hillary Clinton could not afford such a principled position.”

For Clinton, the price of an enthusiastic endorsement from Elizabeth Warren could be high. Warren may not expect Clinton to embrace her call to break up big banks, but she’d like her to move more in that direction.

Warren has been invited into the Senate leadership. She’s become one of the most influential Democrats in the country. Now she has the unofficial front-runner for her party’s presidential nomination asking for her help. Not bad for a law professor who just completed her second year in office.

Besides, she hasn’t closed the door on running in 2020.


Twitter: @DoyleMcManus

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