Elizabeth Warren has run a valiant primary. To finish among the final six in a Democratic field once comprised of more than 20 candidates is no small feat. She’s inspired thousands with her presidential run and possesses the ability to shape the Democratic Party for years to come.
But with a fifth-place finish in the South Carolina primary, the writing is on the wall. It’s time for Warren to end her presidential campaign—especially if she cares about progressive politics.
South Carolina was never really in the cards for Warren. Super Tuesday has long been her focus, but even a solid showing tomorrow would only slightly extend her run. Warren’s polling among non-white and non-college educated voters is a bad sign. That she’s polling roughly even with Bernie Sanders in her home state of Massachusetts is even worse. And her hope to unite the progressive and moderate wings of the party at a brokered Democratic convention is a hypothetical at best.
Still, Warren’s clinging hard to that plurality pipe dream. Her campaign has fully shifted its rhetoric from winning actual states to winning as many delegates as possible, claiming that “Milwaukee [the site of the Democratic National Convention] is the final play.” Warren has increased her attacks against Sanders, saying the Vermont senator “consistently calls for things that fail to get done and [is] consistently opposing things that … he fails to stop.” Her campaign spokespeople have admitted their goal is to “blunt” Sanders’ momentum.
But if Warren truly cares about the progressive policies she’s pushed, dropping out and backing Bernie Sanders is her best bet. Fresh dropouts Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar are consolidating moderate support around Joe Biden. Sanders, meanwhile, is polling well across most demographics and, unlike Warren, has a chance to win the nomination outright. Any arguments that Sanders is not as good or effective as Warren are rendered moot by the simple fact that he’s organized and run a far better presidential campaign.
Warren and her supporters will argue, of course, that she is the best champion for progressive policies. But in her desperation to remain viable, Warren has compromised some of what made her a progressive darling in the first place. Her decision to accept Super PAC money wasn’t just turning back on a core campaign promise, but one of the central tenets of her political identity. In the few weeks since it was formed, her Persist PAC has become the largest of any Democratic candidate in the 2020 cycle. Warren also seemingly changed her stance on “one person, one vote” when she agreed at the Nevada debate that the candidate with the most votes shouldn’t necessarily win the nomination. And her backtrack on Medicare for All way back in 2019 is arguably why she’s in this precarious position in the first place.
Is there a chance Warren views Biden, newly reinvigorated after his South Carolina rout (and potentially the only candidate who can beat Sanders outright), as a better vehicle for progressive policy? It’s possible. Biden hardly seems committed to anything besides beating Trump—perhaps as his vice president, Warren would be able to promote and push through her student loan debt forgiveness or universal child care plan. But it’s hard to imagine Biden, who’s referred to Sanders’ version of Medicare for All, and much of what the Vermont senator proposes, as “pie in the sky,” prioritizing progressive legislation.
Under a Sanders presidency, of course, those initiatives receive top billing. He’s the only candidate besides Warren openly advocating for ideas that aren’t some version of the status quo. He genuinely cares about the people and policies he advocates for—and Warren agrees.
Pretty good Bernie advertisement right here pic.twitter.com/WaLK2o1TPt
— Majority Report (@majorityfm) March 1, 2020
Despite their longtime friendship, Warren and Sanders working together feels like fantasy at the moment. The hostility runs back to Warren leaking the closed-door conversation with Bernie Sanders, during which he allegedly said a woman couldn’t win the presidency. Intentional or not, it backfired on her campaign and created tension between the two candidates that’s only grown since. Their campaigns target one another directly and their supporters relentlessly go after one another online.
But perhaps the chasm between Warren and Sanders isn’t as deep as it looks. Perhaps it will fade along with the rigors and intensity of primary season. And anyone who cares about progressivism should hope it does, unlikely as that may be. With Super Tuesday looming and moderates consolidating around Biden, this is no longer about personal animus between the two candidates, their campaigns or supporters. It’s about the future of progressive politics in America.