Democratic Primary Exit Survey: Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren might have been president. It’s not terribly hard to imagine a world in which Warren rolled out of Super Tuesday with a delegate lead, momentum and fawning media coverage. But a series of poor results, punctuated by a third place finish in her home state of Massachusetts, spelled the end for her campaign. And on Thursday morning, Warren finally suspended it.

Recency bias and urgency in news, especially politics, makes it easy to forget things from a few weeks ago, let alone months. That’s how quickly a campaign can shift from revolutionary to unviable, from frontrunner to finished. Warren’s candidacy ran the gamut of those extremes in less than half a year, and her first presidential campaign was significant from start to finish. In a Democratic primary with a record number of female candidates she was by far the most progressive. Warren helped set the discourse on women’s issues, racial justice and a potential wealth tax. Her candidacy inspired thousands of women and engendered a following as loyal as any candidate running. She was the prohibitive favorite as recently as October, capitalizing on solid debate performances and shrewdly branding herself as the candidate with a plan for everything.

But Warren’s overall polling numbers began to decline in mid-October. She faced attacks from all sides as the frontrunner at the Oct. 15 debate, and was forced to defend her claims of being fired from a teaching job due to pregnancy. In November she introduced a new Medicare for All plan that would involve a three-year transition period into universal healthcare, which upset and alienated many progressive voters.

That simple policy backtrack contributed to Warren’s fall. So too, surely, did inherent sexism among American voters. By the Nevada debate, her campaign was flailing. But that didn’t stop Warren from tearing apart former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg for his egregious history of sexual harassment allegations and nondisclosure agreements.

Attacking Bloomberg, Warren was in her element, feasting on her natural prey. The misogynistic authoritarian billionaire ghoul’s attempt to buy the presidency was stifled by the purity of Warren’s moral compass and invective. The Bloomberg takedown was the highlight of Warren’s late campaign, and provided a long overdue reminder of what she can do when the gloves are off. Democrats have Warren to thank for effectively ending Bloomberg’s campaign that night. And dropping out a day after he did feels like a much deserved taunt, akin to Allen Iverson stepping over Tyronn Lue in the 2001 NBA Finals.

Ironically, dropping out gives Warren the most political power she’s had in months. Her endorsement looms large over the 2020 Democratic primary and could decide it. If Warren supports Bernie Sanders, she could well provide the juice to propel his campaign to victory and buttress a potential progressive dream ticket—indeed, many believe she’s his only hope.

If Warren supports Joe Biden, the full weight of the Democratic Party and primary field will be behind the former vice president and assure him a smoother path to victory. Warren said today she’ll need time to make that decision. But after Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg’s simultaneous endorsements of Biden breathed new life into the former veep’s campaign, Democrats have every right to be anxious for her to make that call.