It is said that during the depths of the Stalin era in the Soviet Union, liberal intellectuals performed an “inner migration.” Forbidden to emigrate, they traveled inward, to a world of literature and music and a democratic politics that existed only in their minds or in conversations with trusted friends.
Faced with the prospect of a Clinton presidency that could extend until my ninetieth birthday, I have been going on my own inner migrations to a world where what I believe in deeply has at least some chance of coming to pass. This morning as I walked, I spent some time imagining an Elizabeth Warren run for the 2016 presidency. I was encouraged in this retreat from reality by a conversation with a good friend for whose political wisdom I have great respect. He said that he is not entirely convinced Clinton will run, but remarked that Warren would have difficulty being elected. Thus provoked, I asked myself under what conditions Elizabeth Warren could win the nomination, even against Clinton, and then win in a general election. I concluded that this would be possible [this is in my private fantasy world, remember] if four conditions could be met. In what remains of this blog post, I shall sketch those conditions and explain my thinking. I invite those who share my despair to join me on this inner migration.
Let us begin by assuming that Clinton will in fact run. If she does not, I actually believe Warren would be the favorite to get the nomination, but even on inner migrations it is well to stay in touch with reality. My first condition is that Clinton once again run a technically bad campaign for the nomination – not the criminally incompetent campaign she ran in 2008, but a campaign beset by some at least of the same problems. In 2008, you will recall, she was the odds-on favorite for the nomination, and as the season began, the polls all showed her winning handily. But Clinton ran an inexcusably bad campaign, headlined by her chief strategist, Marx Penn, whose sheer incompetence should have been grounds for exile from American politics. The Clinton campaign was riven by internal feuds, which Clinton herself did nothing to resolve, and it completely failed to comprehend the threat posed by Obama’s technically picture perfect ground game until it was too late to recover. Clinton, encouraged by Mark Penn, put all her chips on a series of big wins on Super Tuesday. Penn was literally unaware of the fact that the California primary was not a winner-take-all race, and assumed that a win by Clinton in the vote totals would put all of California’s delegates in her pocket. No one in the Clinton camp, it would seem, knew that Texas runs a series of caucuses as well as a primary, so that Obama could come out of Texas with more delegates despite having lost the primary. And so on. Clinton raised tons of money, but did not spend it on a state-of-the-art ground game, as Obama did.
If Clinton has learned from her mistakes and mounts a first-class ground game in 2016, I think no one can beat her. But there is at least some reason to think that she will not learn from her mistakes; indeed, if it is true, as my old friend Zina Tillona liked to say, that most people do most things the way they do most other things, then Clinton may well repeat her mistakes, and that could give Warren the opening she needs.
The second condition for a Warren presidency is that she needs to start right now, or rather in no more than three or four months, to put together a first-class operation on the ground nation-wide, well before she has any reason to believe that Clinton is going to give her an opening. Creating that kind of campaign structure takes lots of money, which she can, I believe, raise, and it means recruiting the best young techie experts to assemble the machine.
Let me emphasize the necessity of a very long running start. If Warren announces for the nomination and puts in some serious effort organizing Iowa, I believe she will actually have a very good chance of winning Iowa, and winning New Hampshire shortly thereafter. I sense a deep hunger in the liberal Democratic base for a candidate they can love, and Clinton is not that candidate, whereas Warren most definitely is. But it is impossible to assemble a serious national campaign structure AFTER Iowa and New Hampshire. When the thunderbolt strikes and Warren suddenly becomes a viable candidate in the eyes of the mainstream media, that campaign structure of paid professionals in regional offices in thirty or forty states has to be up and running, the doors wide open to receive and put to use the volunteers who will come flooding in. That is what made the Obama campaign a success. Which means that Warren must decide now unambiguously that she wants to BE president, not simply that she wants to run for president.
If Warren succeeds, against the odds, in securing the nomination, she ought to select Clinton as her running mate. The downside of this is of course that even a number of women may be hesitant about voting for an all-female ticket, regardless of what they tell pollsters, and I assume there will be a great many men who will balk at supporting such a ticket. The upside is that the Clinton machine, whatever its strengths, would be working for the ticket, not against it [as I assume it would, however covertly, of Clinton were defeated a second time and were left out in the cold.]
The third condition for a Warren presidency is that the Republicans finally nominate someone they really love, a far right candidate such as Rand Paul or Ted Cruz. If that happens, Warren-Clinton could win in a landslide. On the other hand, if the rational fragment of the party again prevailed and got the nomination for Jeb Bush, Warren could have a hard time winning, from the leftish position she occupies, although Clinton would I think defeat Bush. I actually think this time around the Republicans are going to go with their hearts, and if they do, they will get swamped.
Well, that is as far into my inner migration I got before my walk ended in Place Maubert and I walked up rue Monge to buy a baguette and a briochette au sucre for Susie. For a few brief minutes, I could believe that my eighties will not be a political wasteland.