On Saturday I spent three hours in near-freezing drizzle, dodging puddles and knocking on doors with cold hands because I think Elizabeth Warren is the best candidate in the Democratic primary. In my opinion, she would be the best for the party, best for the country, and has the best chance of beating Donald Trump.
It might sound miserable to spend precious hours of my weekend in the freezing drizzle, but it was actually the most rewarding canvassing experience I have had. People genuinely want to talk about the primary because we’re all struggling with the same question: How do we beat Donald Trump? Some think that we need to stay moderate and not alienate voters in the middle of the political spectrum. Others say that the key to victory is energizing the left and inspiring people who otherwise wouldn’t vote at all. Some people have already made up their minds, others are truly undecided (and likely agonizing over it). Flagstaff is a liberal city, and I was in a liberal neighborhood, so one of the most common things I heard was that people were undecided between the two most liberal candidates: Sanders and Warren.
Now, I completely understand people who are worried that both Sanders and Warren are too far left and prefer more moderate candidates. I think that’s a reasonable opinion. Personally, I’m liberal enough that I’m tired of seeing Democrats compromise on their values before they even begin negotiations. I mean, of course compromise is necessary in politics, but you should start out with a clear vision of what you actually want. Let the other side move the discussion toward the middle, don’t start in the middle and then let them move it even closer to their position. I think voters too often look at the Democrats and see a weak, waffling party that doesn’t really stand for anything, and I think voters are hungry to see that change.
What I do not understand is how anyone could look at the two progressive candidates, Warren and Sanders, and think that Sanders is the better choice. Warren does everything that Sanders does, but as the saying goes, “backwards, in heels”.
Their policies are similar, but Warren provides far more detail for a lot of policies than Sanders does. She has not just done her homework; in many cases she taught the class. Take for example Sanders’ signature issue: Medicare for All. I’m glad Sanders changed the conversation about health care so that it is being taken seriously, but Sanders’ page has just a few paragraphs and bulleted lists, and doesn’t have any explanation of the key question: how do we get there from here? (Hint: Just yelling about a “political revolution” is not going to cut it.) Warren’s page on the topic, on the other hand, is impressively detailed. It describes how she will both use the power of the executive branch to begin the transition, and pursue more permanent legislation. The difference in the depth and sophistication of their plans is almost comic. Of course, both candidates vary in the amount of detail they provide on different issues, but on the whole, it’s clear that Warren is much stronger on policy details.
But as much as I’d like the election to be decided on wonkish policy details, we all know that’s not the most important thing for two reasons.
First, the president doesn’t actually get to make laws, and the lovely progressive wish list on both candidates’ sites is never going to actually happen. So, more important than policy proposals is the candidate’s temperament. I want a president who can fight for policies that help people but can actually get something done in the face of opposition, even from other Democrats. That requires coalition building, give and take, and working relationships with others in the party and even Republicans. That is something Warren does well, but that Sanders is singularly bad at. He seems to prefer to take a position, refuse to budge, and yell about it.
Second, most Democrats I’ve talked to care about one thing above all others: beating Donald Trump. The whole point of the primary is to choose a candidate who can win in the general election, and winning in the general will require the party to unify around the nominee. Sanders is not a unifying figure. He is abrasive, angry, and stubborn, and anyone who has interacted with his most “enthusiastic” supporters online knows that they are hostile and alienating, even to people with whom they agree on almost everything.
By contrast, Warren is a coalition builder who can knit the party back together after a long and divisive primary. She has ambitious policy proposals to inspire the left, and a knack for communicating her policies in a way that, if given the chance, could speak to people of all backgrounds. She understandably doesn’t flaunt it in the primary, but Warren was originally a Republican and switched parties when she saw firsthand how Republican policies were hurting people. That perspective will allow her to connect with people in a way that Sanders’ stubbornness, no matter how principled, won’t.
Warren is also the ideal foil for Trump, and Sanders is among the worst. Warren’s whole career is about protecting working people from corrupt billionaires. Sanders has tried to do the same thing by promoting progressive policies, but with less actual success and a lot more yelling about socialism. Warren is a woman, which is a liability because misogyny is widespread even on the left, but is also a great asset because women are energized like never before to prevent a second term of Trump. Warren even was the one whose determined resistance to Republicans in power coined the slogan “nevertheless she persisted.” I know multiple women who were so inspired by that slogan that they got it as a tattoo. In contrast, Sanders is an angry old white man, as is Trump.
And of course, we recently found out that Russia is working to support Sanders in the primary even as it tries to get Trump re-elected in the general. Not only should that give any potential Sanders voter pause – why would Russia want Sanders as the nominee unless they think he has the worst chance of winning against Trump? – but also because it neutralizes one of the most powerful arguments against Trump. Sanders cannot credibly attack Trump for benefiting from foreign interference when he benefited from it too. Add to that the fact that Sanders is a socialist, it’s obvious that Trump and the Republican propaganda machine will bend over backwards to paint Sanders as the next Stalin.
All of which is to say that I’m pretty frustrated with the apparent direction the primary is going. Warren is better in every way than Sanders, but she is struggling to gain traction. For reasons that I cannot comprehend, the young, liberal wing of the party is enamored with a disheveled, angry, old man who just had a heart attack, with a poor track record of actually getting things done, and a lot of electoral liabilities, rather than the woman with better versions of the same policies, an impressive list of accomplishments, a personable temperament that lets her connect with voters and would unify rather than divide the party, and a career dedicated to taking down corrupt billionaires. It’s almost as if there’s some key intangible difference between him and her that makes people “just not like her.”
As I told most of the people I talked with while canvassing: despite appearances, I’m not a Warren fanatic. I will be out there canvassing and working hard to make sure the nominee, whoever it is, beats Trump. (And you should be too. This is not the year to sit on the sidelines!) All of our candidates have real strengths and all can beat Trump who has major weaknesses. If Sanders is the nominee I will enthusiastically vote for him over Trump. It deeply, viscerally upsets me to see people repeating the mistakes of 2016, saying that they’ll only vote for their preferred candidate. But it also upsets me to see the best candidate in the field struggling to gain traction while others seemingly get a free pass.