After I wrote yesterday about what I see as the near-term political landscape, conservative new York Times columnist David Brooks penned an op-ed in which he tossed in one of the wild cards I alluded to in my prognostication. In a piece entitled, “Warren Can Win,” he posited that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), a populist of the first rank who is also a firebrand and a fighter for what she believes in, could win the Democratic Party’s nomination for President next year.
He concluded his essay with this paragraph:
The history of populist candidates is that they never actually get the nomination. The establishment wins. That’s still likely. But there is something in the air. The fundamental truth is that every structural and historical advantage favors Clinton, but every day more Democrats embrace the emotion and view defined by Warren.
The “emotion” defined by Warren is, as Brooks says, an “emotional register of the Democratic Party [that] is growing more combative. There’s an underlying and sometimes vituperative sense of frustration toward President Obama, and especially his supposed inability to go to the mat.” I can attest to that sense of frustration, though I’d up the fire a bit and call it disappointment bordering on outright anger. And the view Warren defines? Pure populism with a healthy dose of anti-big-finance born from her childhood roots and honed on the battlefields of regulatory necessity.
If Warren can wrest the nomination from the presumptive candidate, Hillary Clinton (who has little fight and no legitimate claim to populism), then she alters the political equation fundamentally. By not being a “Republican Lite” Democratic candidate, Warren might ignite large numbers of previously inactive folks along with those who are fed up with Obama’s lack of progressivism and pull off a win in the General. In that event, the overall situation could look much different than I predicted yesterday. By forcing the Democrats back to their roots and creating a strong opposition to the Republicans’ obstructionism, she could shift the debate and the power struggle back toward the people in ways no other candidate I can see on the scene right now could.