Elizabeth Warren’s Nevada debate performance resuscitated her presidential hopes. Attacking Michael Bloomberg’s long history of sexual harassment allegations fired up her supporters and generated a rush of positive media attention. The Liz Warren of old was back and taking on wealthy bullies, as she did as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and as a Senator. She seemed fiery and independent, ready to take on big money and a corrupt political establishment. But less than a day later, Warren announced her campaign was reneging its pledge not to take Super PAC money.
Elizabeth Warren reversed course today on super PACs, saying she wouldn't tell a big-money group formed to support her, Persist PAC, to stand down.
Her website still says she "would disavow any super PAC formed to support her in the Democratic primary."https://t.co/j93CiDb6iH
— Molly Hensley-Clancy (@mollyhc) February 20, 2020
The Super Pac announcement came as a surprise, since Warren had made rejecting PAC money central to her campaign. But even more surprising were the reasons she gave for the change. Warren said it was unfair that she and Amy Klobuchar, the only women on the Nevada Democratic debate stage, were the only candidates not funded by Super PACs. She also explained she was endorsing a Super PAC formed to support her because fellow Democrats failed to follow her lead in rejecting them.
NEW: Here is video of Warren declining to disavow the new super PAC supporting her:
“If all the candidates want to get rid of super PACs, count me in. I'll lead the charge. But that's how it has to be. It can't be the case that a bunch of people keep them and only 1 or 2 don’t.” pic.twitter.com/byxQRjGMfs
— Shane Goldmacher (@ShaneGoldmacher) February 20, 2020
Warren’s rationales are confusing for a few reasons. Relying on Super PACs is hardly a gender issue—Hillary Clinton’s raised nearly $200 million during the 2016 primary and general elections, more than any Super PAC in history. And it’s strange to hear Warren say she’ll “lead the charge” in rejecting Super PAC money while announcing that she’ll now accept it. At best that’s leadership from behind; at worst, it’s an egregiously cynical excuse for buying in. What was a focal point of her campaign just two weeks ago is now being brushed aside.
But Warren ran into another issue with her Super PAC rationale. By saying she and Klobuchar were the “only candidates” not taking PAC money, she once again lumped Bernie Sanders into that category. Sanders doesn’t take big money donations, but receives support from several “small operations representing young and working-class people and people of color” like National Nurses United and Sunrise Movement. To call them Super PACs is quite a stretch—they’re made up of thousands of members and raise and spend fractions of what traditional PACs do.
“Warren would have accepted the endorsement of groups like Sunrise if she had earned it,” says writer Carl Beijer. “But she didn’t so she went nuclear and called them a Super PAC in order to hurt Bernie. It was a cynical attack, but she [was] in fourth place so she [had] nothing to lose.”
Warren hasn’t been shy about attacking Sanders in recent weeks, regurgitating the Bernie Bro narrative by saying every candidate needs to answer for the behavior of their supporters. She also proclaimed after the debate that, unlike Sanders, she “gets real stuff done” and “doesn’t want to be president just to yell at people.”
But Warren didn’t attack Sanders during last week’s debate, at least directly. And that’s left some to believe she’s positioning herself as a potential “unity candidate” to bring together the progressive and moderate wings of the party in the event of a brokered Democratic convention. That’s an uncertain path, especially since it’ll likely alienate the left she hopes to unify. But given her early results and current polling in Super Tuesday states, it’s probably her only path to the nomination.
“What she really needed to do on that [debate] stage was to try to win back the centrist and undecided voters who left her, and that meant going on the attack against other centrists,” Beijer says. “This doesn’t mean she’s Bernie’s ally because she’ll clearly make opportunistic attacks against him if she thinks it’ll win centrists. But that’s not her main goal.”
Warren has contradicted herself several times before. She waffled on her support for Medicare for All several months ago and also said (along with every other Democratic candidate) that superdelegates, not voters, should decide the nominee at a brokered convention. Every candidate flip-flops to some degree or another—it’s nearly impossible to stay ideologically consistent for nearly two full years, especially as results start coming in and certain strategies are proven ineffective. But her Super PAC rollback, and especially the supposed reasons for it, reeks of the worst kind of political cynicism.