Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has yet to join the rest of her Democratic colleagues in formally backing Hillary Clinton for President. But by many measures, she has become Clinton’s unofficial “basher in chief” by going after Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee.
The former Harvard Law professor and Obama administration consumer financial affairs advocate repeatedly turned down the pleas of liberal Democrats to seek the presidency herself this year, and pretty much stayed on the sidelines while Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont challenged Clinton for the Democratic nomination.
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However, the one-term Democratic senator appeared to some to be auditioning for the second spot on the Democratic ticket in the last several months by lashing out at Trump as a “money grubber,” misogynist, racist, bully and first-class narcissist. “Let’s be honest – Donald Trump is a loser,” Warren wrote on her Facebook page in late March, which is the ultimate insult to the billionaire businessman.
Now that Clinton, the former secretary of state, has clinched her party’s presidential nomination, there is renewed speculation that Clinton and Warren might team up for an historic all-female national ticket.
According to a spate of media reports, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada has begun quietly promoting Warren as Clinton’s running mate as a way of helping to unify the party after a hard fought, increasingly bitter primary contest between Clinton and Sanders.
Politico and other publications were speculating about a Clinton-Warren ticket because Reid had previously argued strenuously against Clinton choosing as her running mate any sitting Democratic senator from a state with a GOP governor who would almost certainly appoint a Republican to fill the vacancy.
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While Warren’s vacated seat would eventually be filled by the winner of a special election, there would be no guarantee that another Democratic would be elected to the seat. “If we have a Republican governor in any of those states the answer is not only no, but hell no,” Reid said in an MSNBC interview last month. “I would do whatever I can and I think most of my Democratic colleagues here would say the same thing.”
Reid’s harsh decree appeared to take Warren out of the running for vice president. Republican governor Charlie Baker would almost certainly replace her with a Republican. Reid’s dictum also presumably would apply to Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, who are both from states with GOP governors.
However, something changed in recent weeks. The Boston Globe reported that Reid has retained Mark Elias, an election lawyer and general counsel to the Clinton campaign, to explore ways to work within Massachusetts law to limit the number of days a Republican appointee could serve in the Senate before a special election is held to replace Warren. A source close to Reid told Politico, “He thinks Warren is a good choice to unify the party.”
Forging an all-female Democratic presidential ticket no doubt would be historic, but it also carries inherent risks. The fusion of Clinton and Warren would help to energize the party and patch over differences between moderates and liberals that have festered throughout Sanders’s aggressive challenge to Clinton for the nomination. Moreover, Warren, who pioneered the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for the Obama administration, and is a major scold of big banks, could protect Clinton from liberal criticism that she was too cozy with Wall Street.
Related: Why a Clinton-Warren Ticket Just Might Work
However, some experts say there is no way to know in advance how voters would respond to the arrangement. Neither Clinton nor Warren is considered a natural-born politician, and either might struggle at first to choreograph campaign strategy against Trump and his GOP running mate.
Nathan L. Gonzales of the Rothenberg and Gonzales Political Report, said Monday, “It’s difficult to evaluate whether some voters would be turned off by an all-female ticket” because Clinton is a “uniquely polarizing individual” and there are “a lot of reasons voters might oppose her” besides her sex. What’s more, voters will focus far more on the two presidential candidates than their running mates, he said. “It will come down to the two nominees – Clinton and Trump,” he said.
Clinton and her advisers have struggled for months to devise strategies to combat Trump and his vicious attacks – a trait that served him well in emerging from a crowded Republican field. Clinton has said often that she refuses to “get down in the mud” with Trump. Yet she needed a way to counter his blistering attacks on her integrity (calling her “Crooked Hillary”) and revelations about her use of a private email server during her four years as secretary of state, in contravention of federal guidelines.
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Last week, she may have found her voice in a foreign policy speech in California in which she declared that Trump was unprepared and unfit to be commander in chief, and that electing him would be a “historic mistake.”
Meanwhile, in an escalating battle of tweets, Warren has repeatedly denounced Trump as a bully who has “built his campaign on racism, sexism, and xenophobia.”
“Count all his failed businesses,” she said in her Facebook attack. “See how he kept his father’s empire afloat by cheating people with scams like Trump University and by using strategic corporate bankruptcy (excuse me, bankruptcies) to skip out on debt. Listen to the experts who’ve concluded he’s so bad at business that he might have more money today if he’d put his entire inheritance into an index fund and just left it alone.”
Trump, of course, gives as good as he gets, and has repeatedly dismissed the Massachusetts Democrat as “Goofy Elizabeth” and “Pocahontas.” He uses the name Pocahontas to invoke a controversy that arose during her 2012 Senate race against Republican Scott Brown. Warren had claimed in a law directory before teaching at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard that she was of Native American descent. As it turned out, that connection was hard to prove conclusively, and Brown accused Warren of misrepresenting her as a minority to get ahead in the academic world.
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Trump tweeted at one point that, “I find it offensive that Goofy Elizabeth Warren, sometimes referred to as Pocahontas, pretended to be Native American to get in Harvard.” Warren tweeted back that Trump needed to get his facts straight, and that she never attended Harvard as a student, but was a graduate of the University of Houston and Rutgers.
She followed up by tweeting, “If @realDonaldTrump means my job at Harvard, he can ask Charlies Fried, Solicitor General for Reagan. He says loud & clear that’s a lie.”
A minor correction was made to this story at 11:30 am on June 7, 2016.