When asked just how vulnerable former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is to a challenge from her left, the Acela Corridor’s political class is quick to note that 2016 is not 2008.
They observe that the factors which made Clinton vulnerable to a challenge from then Sen. Barack Obama in 2008 simply do not exist today.
For example, those grounded political reporters say, the former secretary is wildly popular among Democrats. They cite polling data which shows the former secretary leading her most likely challenger – the sitting Vice President of the United States – often by more than 30 points.
Finally, they note that Clinton’s major vulnerability in 2008, her 2002-2003 support for the Iraq War, is no longer a major concern within the Democratic Party’s left-wing. Her recent apology for her vote in favor of that operation, they say, has buried any hard feelings which might persist.
While the polls do not yet bear this assumption out, it is fair to say that most in the press believe that only individual who could mount a credible challenge to Clinton from her left is Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). The “reality-based community,” as it were, is however quick to note that even that scenario is highly unlikely.
This sentiment is best expressed by Slate’s Dave Weigel who recently performed an interview with the founder of campaign aimed at drafting Warren to run in 2016. He confessed that his questions for the founder of this group were “skeptical” in nature, which slightly undersold just how suspicious Weigel seemed to be of the effort to force the senior Massachusetts senator to run for the presidency.
While the political press is suspicious of the notion that Clinton is vulnerable to a challenge from Warren, a non-candidate who has said in no uncertain terms that she is not interested in mounting that challenge, the press is also not ignoring the obvious: the progressive wing of the party is not Ready for Hillary .
A CNN survey from June revealed that, while Clinton remains the favorite prospective 2016 candidate among Democrats, their enthusiasm for her candidacy is muted:
Forty-one percent of Democrats questioned said they’d be enthusiastic if Clinton wins the nomination, with 42% saying they’d be satisfied. One in 10 said they’d be dissatisfied, and 5% said they’d be upset.
The rest of the Beltway horserace watchers are also noticing that Warren commands a measure of enthusiasm on the left that Clinton never has.
CNN’s Peter Hamby presented five instructive reasons why Warren has the potential to upend conventional wisdom in 2016:
“The media has an interest in propping up a challenger to Hillary Clinton. The media loves a fight,” Hamby observed. “But so do Democrats.”
The CNN reporter noted that he often receives communications from Democratic political professional who say that a proper and competitive primary campaign in 2016 – a challenge which they do not believe Joe Biden will be able to give Clinton – will make the ultimate nominee a better candidate.
The liberal grassroots, meanwhile, which is unconcerned with the sharpness of the Democratic standard-bearer vis-à-vis the eventual Republican nominee, just wants to see that “change” they were promised in 2008.
“Their heads might be with Hillary Clinton, but their hearts are decidedly with Elizabeth Warren,” Politico’s Katie Glueck reported last week. She observed that Clinton avoided the annual progressive Netroots Nation conference – where Clinton was booed in 2007 – while Warren delivered a tour de force performance and was hailed by attendees as an Olympian figure.
In their eyes, Clinton and just about everyone else pales next to Warren, with her combative stance against big banks, passionate rhetoric about changing a “rigged” economic system and promises to fight for working people.
At that conference, Warren delivered unto the leftwing attendees the 11 commandments of progressivism – a moment which may come to be seen by posterity as the instant her campaign began.
“In her speech, Warren outlined more clearly than other Democrats the social issues that galvanize progressives,” National Journal’s Emma Roller submitted. “Her performance was reminiscent of a certain other young senator in 2008.”
MSNBC.com, the internet-based home of the left-of-center cable news network with one host that devoted significant airtime to urging Clinton not to run for the presidency and cede the nomination to Warren, posted a recent report detailing how that the Bay State’s great progressive hope is behaving like a politician interested in higher office.
“While Hillary Clinton, the presumed Democratic frontrunner for a 2016 presidential run, is getting panned for her sky-high speaking fees, the Massachusetts Senator is headlining town hall forums with one of the most highly-coveted voting blocs: Latinos,” MSNBC.com’s Amanda Sakuma reported.
A former Obama campaign staffer has already launched Ready for Warren encouraging the freshman senator to run. The group even released an indie music video urging the Democrat to “Run Liz, Run.”
Conservatives are beginning to take note as well. Anti-Clinton groups are shifting gears to issue “Warren Warnings” to supporters with hopes to raise money against a potential candidacy.
Warren has been a major draw at Democratic fundraisers across the country, and her ability to provide candidates with financial support could easily translate into political support. The AP notes that Warren’s financial backing for Democratic candidates and campaign committees is winning her a lot of important friends.
“Part of this is for her to build her stature, but she is also a believer,” Princeton University political history professor Julian Zelizer told the Associated Press in June. “She could stumble but … she’s still new and she doesn’t have the baggage of someone like a Hillary Clinton.”
If she ran, FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten observed on Monday, Warren would be the most liberal Democratic presidential nominee since George McGovern received his party’s nod in 1972. But the long odds Warren would face in her quest for the White House are of little concern to the Democratic base, which is deeply frustrated with what they see as President Barack Obama’s fruitless centrism.
The liberal wing of the Democratic Party is itching for a real fight with Republicans, and they do not believe Clinton will give them one. The trouble is, as of today, the Democratic Party’s pragmatists do not believe anyone — Warren included — can mount a successful challenge to Clinton, let alone succeed Obama in the Oval Office.
With the blitz of stories about Warren’s capacity to mount that potent bid for the presidency, the political press is aiming to change that calculation for Democrats.
An earlier version of this post identified Warren as the junior senator from Massachusetts