Can Elizabeth Warren win it all?

Other skeptics argue that some of Warren’s proposals could harm the economy. Todd Zywicki, a law professor at George Mason University, who has clashed with Warren since the nineties, is probably her most vocal policy critic. He characterized Warren’s political philosophy as similar to that of Louis Brandeis, the early-twentieth-century Supreme Court Justice and leader of the Progressive movement, who challenged corporate monopolies and fought for labor rights. Zywicki outlined three facets of Warrenism. “First, she has a distrust of big corporations,” he said. “Big corporations have market power, they can take advantage of consumers, and can tilt the playing field against small businesses.” Second is her belief in aggressive regulation as a way to rectify the injustices of the economic system. A third is “reflected in her personal narrative,” he went on, including “a skepticism of inherited wealth.”

Zywicki told me that Warren “thinks what she’s doing is keeping the essence of capitalism and markets and trying to make them work better without going full-blown socialism.” But, he said, the type of government intervention that she is proposing often has unintended consequences. Warren’s theory was the kind that “goes fundamentally awry when it hits the real world,” he said. “When government intervenes to ‘rebalance the equation,’ it often ends up favoring some interests over others, and in my view that happens based on political clout.” He pointed to the Dodd-Frank financial reform, which was supposed to reduce the power of big banks; he argued that the new regulatory costs disproportionately hurt smaller banks and “made the big banks even bigger, entrenching ‘too big to fail.’ ” (In 2018, Congress loosened oversight of small and medium-sized banks.)

In a primary race that is splitting Democratic voters between a desire for a return to the status quo, represented by conciliatory centrists like Biden, and a desire for dramatic change, represented by the more extreme leftism of Sanders, Warren’s candidacy falls closer to the side of insurgency. The profound changes that a Warren Administration could bring are unnerving to some. “I think she would sow as much discord as Trump has,” the major Democratic donor who works in finance told me. “She would be playing to her base.”