Senator Warren Ran an Error-Free Campaign, Right Up Until She Didn’t: the Handful of Unrecoverable Mistakes that Took Her Out

You don’t read about Senator Warren’s error-free campaign anymore.

The reason for her slow and steady decline in the polls are two key mistakes Senator Warren made recently, which built upon an already established (and negative) narrative.

And in this critical time, as Amy Walter from the Cook Political Report, voters want to get to know candidate’s values, even more than their policies. And the way most voters decide is to watch, carefully, how candidates respond and react to the primary, as Walter says, a “stress test.”

And this is a problem for Senator Warren, who, how shall I put this, has trouble being honest about herself when honesty could hurt her politically.

She seems to have this belief that her personal intent presently over-rides any behavior which will shed doubt on her current political views.

There really are four key events that are draining Senator Warren of her support, and my guess is that they are unrecoverable from — the pressures of a being a front runner crack most, and Senator Warren’s last two actions, I think, have ended her run. Time will tell if this analysis is correct:

First, let’s give a nod to opposition research and how critical it is to the end of the Warren campaign.

“Oppo,” or opposition research’s real role is to build a case around a narrative about a candidate.

Here is one piece of oppo that did just that, found not by some GOP operative, but by the Washington Post, whose story is headlined, “Elizabeth Warren apologizes for calling herself Native American.” The lead paragraph reads: “Sen. Elizabeth Warren said Tuesday that she was sorry that she identified herself as a Native American for almost two decades.”

Written and signed by her own hand, she is an American Indian.

And when CNN runs a headline like this, “Elizabeth Warren’s Native American problem just got even worse,” the narrative sticks, even with Democrats.

It is clear that her characterization about being a native American Indian helped Senator Warren when she made it, but when found not to be true, it hurt not only Senator Warren but also Native American Indians, because it threw doubt on the whole process of claiming Native American Indian status.

And it is inescapable, it’s about a characterization she made about herself.

Then, another oppo narrative that re-inforces the same message about doubts about Senator Warren’s self-characterization, is the New York Times story about Senator Warren’s work defending large corporate interests in court. Both the moderate and progressive wing of the Democratic party have worked this narrative and it is working.

As former Democratic Senator Clair McCaskill put it: “The problem Elizabeth has is she’s been so righteous, and so her attitude has been so, ‘I am morally superior because I am purer. I hate corporations,’” and Senator Warren herself has made corporate corruption of the political process her flagship issue.

Except, there are headlines like these: “Elizabeth Warren Slammed Company for Screwing Workers… Then Made Them One of Her Corporate Clients,” or “Democrat Senate Hopeful Warren Exposed As Complete Fraud.”

And being painted as a hypocrite is the most damaging narrative of all, it is absolutely devastating — as a recent study summarized by the Washington Post explains:

“A few years ago, the journal Psychological Science published a study exploring why humans are harsher judges of people we perceive to be hypocrites than those we think of as liars. In short, it’s that hypocrites “appear virtuous at the expense of those who they are condemning,” as Jillian Jordan, one of the authors of the paper and then a researcher at Yale University, said. It’s not the act of hypocrisy that upsets us as much as the feeling we’ve been had by someone.” (Emphasis added.)

And then, the recent two errors Senator Warren made, that build on the oppo built narrative above and, I predict, will be the end of her viability as a leading candidate: she said her children did not go to private school, but her son did, to two of the most expensive and elite schools in the nation.

Just like the I-am-a-Native-American-Indian claim, saying your son did not go to private school when you sent him to two of the top private schools in the country is not a mistake you make without knowingly lying.

Again, here are a sampling of the headlines: “Warren, School Choice Opponent, Sent Son to Private School,” Elizabeth Warren Lies About Her Son Attending Two Different Private Schools” or “Warren’s ginormous school-choice hypocrisy,” and “Warren’s fib on son’s private school part of a pattern.” It is worth noting that at the last Democratic National Convention, one in 10 delegates was a teacher union member.

And when the Washington Post runs an op-ed with the headline “How Elizabeth Warren should deal with charges of hypocrisy,” the narrative is sticking.

And then, we come to the final nail in the Senator Warren campaign, her backing off of Senator Sander’s Medicare for All, and pivoting to her new priority, the Medicare Public option, which she says she will follow up with Sander’s Medicare for All.

For voters, her descriptions about herself and her background and whether her son went to private school — even when it self-affixes the damaging hypocrite label — that’s one thing, but backing off the number one sacred issue of all to Democratic voters, health care, merely reinforces narratives built previously about her character, and whether what she says can be trusted.

The Morning Consult discovered this problem for Senator Warren, revealed by the Morning Consult’s highly regarded polling:

the Massachusetts senator’s proposal to create a public option as a transition to Medicare for All is less popular among both Democrats and the full electorate than Medicare for All itself.”

In other words, when Senator Warren backed off her support of Senator Sanders’ Medicare for All bill, and now repeatedly pushes Vice President Joe Biden’s policy of the Medicare Public Option, voters do not see it as a smart and popular way to ultimately get Medicare for All.

Voters wonder if Senator Warren really means it, or whether the truth of her views was, just now, revealed by the pressure of running for President.

And as her slide in the polls indicates, Democratic Presidential primary voters simply do not want to take that chance. 

These self-inflicted mistakes strike a troubling and established narrative.

They will not be easily or quickly turned around by Senator Warren, if at all.

There will be some Warren supporters who turn her fall from grace with primary voters into: “the country is not ready for a woman Presidential nominee,” but that ship sailed when the Democrats elected Hillary Clinton as their nominee.

This is a Senator Warren self-affixed thing, not a woman thing.

And the on-going food fight between Senator Warren and Mayor Pete is good for Senator Warren, it’s distracting voters from consciously recognizing why they are distancing themselves from her.

One other point worth mentioning: AOC made the right choice. AOC was ahead of the curve politically, in picking Senator Sanders over Senator Warren. I love saying this (so I will say it again): there is no denying it, the force is strong with AOC. (I can’t wait for the t-shirt.)

And Senator Warren’s fall is likely connected to Senator Sander’s rise: he is second nationally, second in Iowa, first in New Hampshire, 0.2 points from second in Nevada and third and closing on Warren in South Carolina, and, Sanders is second in California. Even the bookies have moved Sanders into second place.

Interestingly, former Vice President Biden now is in third place in Iowa and third in New Hampshire, while still holding onto first in Nevada and first in South Carolina.

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