Elizabeth Warren Couldn’t Win and Therefore Didn’t

She lost in both of her home states. She shouldn't be embarrassed.

The headlines are rubbing it in.

CNN: “Elizabeth Warren suffers embarrassing defeat in home state of Massachusetts

Fox News: “Warren places third in home state Massachusetts, after vowing to keep campaign going

Washington Examiner: “Warren lost two home states on Super Tuesday to Joe Biden

NYT: “Elizabeth Warren Slides to Third Place in Massachusetts

AP: “Warren’s future uncertain after loss in home state of Mass.”

NBC News: “Biden takes Massachusetts, defeating home state Sen. Warren and Sanders

Having spent the days between South Carolina and Super Tuesday arguing that everyone but Biden and Sanders ought drop out and being accused of sexism for the temerity to include Warren, who had done far worse than Pete Buttigieg and others, I chortled a bit at the outcome.

I tweeted this:

And I retweeted this:

But, in all fairness, the same thing happened to her that happened to Mike Bloomberg: Most voters pulled the lever for a candidate they thought could win and all the polls and forecasts indicated that only Biden and Sanders were options.

That Biden out-performed Sanders in the most liberal state in the country is amusing. But it’s not even embarrassing for Sanders; after all, the progressive vote was split.

That so many people across the country showed up to vote for a candidate with no chance of winning is actually a remarkable testament to Warren’s connection with her supporters.

Thus far, she’s remaining defiant. She’s vowing that she’s “still in this fight.” My guess is that she’ll feel the pressure to drop out and do so soon.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow. She’s arguably the best candidate in the race. While also a septuagenarian, she comes across as much younger and more energetic than the two men who are left in the race. And, while I don’t much like many of her plans, the fact that she has them in detail speaks well of her preparation to govern.

But, as Matt Yglesias wrote yesterday morning, that wasn’t enough.

There are specific tactical decisions (by both her campaign and her rivals) that brought her to this point. But a larger context to understand is that if you, like many of my friends, find the situation puzzling, that is probably because you know a lot of people who are demographically similar to yourself. I’m a highly educated white person, and most of my friends and acquaintances are also highly educated white people. Elizabeth Warren is very popular with people like us.

The reality is that there aren’t that many people like us — and there’s a valuable lesson in that, not just about the Warren campaign specifically but about some of the larger dynamics in American politics.

[…]

Warren stands head and shoulders above her colleagues in Congress in part because her achievements are impressive but also, in large part, because these are not achievements that are normally rewarded in the political process.

One reason for that is the overall level of educational attainment in the United States is simply lower than many college graduates seem to realize.

Validated data from the 2016 election, for example, suggests that only about one-third of 2016 voters had college degrees. The share among Hillary Clinton voters was higher, at 43 percent, but even among the more educated in the party, most people haven’t graduated college. And among college graduates, about 75 percent attend schools that accept more than half of applicants, rather than the kind of state university flagships or elite private universities whose graduates dominate the media. In my friend group, it’s not unusual for someone to be a lawyer or a doctor or to have a master’s degree in something or other. As a policy journalist, I speak to a lot of experts in academia or the think tank world who have advanced degrees.

But in the actual American population distribution, there are more high school dropouts than people with master’s degrees. The median American under the age of 30 has $0 in student loan debt, not because the median young person is superrich but because most people didn’t attend expensive higher education institutions in the first place.

Matt’s younger and more left-leaning than me but we’re both in the demographic that Warren appeals to. Indeed, if not for some planks of her platform that I fundamentally disagreed with, she would have been my early choice from among the field. But, as political pundits need to constantly remind ourselves, we’re not normal. The country is not like us.

Nor, for that matter, is Massachusetts:

A CNN exit poll breaking down the results Tuesday in Massachusetts by gender, race, age, education, and ideology found that literally the only group that supported Warren over Sanders and Biden were white, college-graduate women (33 percent).

But among voters in the state with no college degrees, Warren (15 percent) trailed both Biden (37 percent) and Sanders (34 percent) by more than 20 percent. 

Broken down by sub-category, the results did improve much: 42 percent of non-college-educated white voters in Massachusetts broke for Biden, while 34 percent supported Sanders and just 14 percent backed Warren. And 33 percent of nonwhite voters without college degrees backed Sanders, compared to 25 percent for Biden and 16 percent for Warren. The gap was most dramatic among white men without college degrees: 14 percent supported Warren, while 39 percent backed Biden and 38 percent went for Sanders.

Even in a state with a disproportionately educated populace, it was enough to sink Warren.

But, again, Warren would have made a much stronger showing had South Carolina not reset the landscape.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Campaign 2020, Elizabeth Warren, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Liberal Capitalist says:

    She’s arguably the best candidate in the race.

    Yes. And I was one who pulled the lever (actually touched the screen and hit print) for Warren in Colorado.

    But with Democrats, when the “best” candidate goes forward, we lose.
    * 1968 – Humphrey
    * 1972 – McGovern
    * 1984 – Mondale
    * 1988 – Dukakis
    * 2000 – Gore
    * 2004 – Kerry
    * 2016 – Clinton

    So: Smokin’ Joe will end up being the lead on the Democratic Party presidential ticket. He’s not the best candidate. But he does have that “guy you would like to have a beer with” quality that somehow the electorate seems to want and Trump clearly doesn’t have. And that likely has the Trump camp worried.

    So there’s that.

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  2. Jen says:

    Some of us are still smarting/trying to recover from some of the outright misogyny we witnessed in 2016. I think a lot of things happened here (too many candidates in the field dividing attention, her overly detailed plans (that was a plus in my book, but people can pick that apart), lingering real or perceived damage from the DNA debacle, etc.), but I think there’s still a possibility that she’s a VP pick for Biden.

    My hunch is that he’ll likely go with someone younger and a POC (Booker would be good, I think), but Warren’s probably in the mix somewhere.

    People want normalcy and stability, and I think Dem voters are trending correctly toward that offering.

    7
  3. An Interested Party says:

    And that likely has the Trump camp worried.

    Of course they’re worried…why else would they have tried to use a foreign government to smear Biden and why else are so many conservatives talking up Sanders…

    5
  4. The Lounsbury says:

    @Liberal Capitalist: That is a list of ‘best candidates’?

    Strange list, how they are best rather escapes (ex Kerry, can understand that).

    Of course playing to the populace rather than the Lefty eggheads – that “guy you would like to have a beer with’ should always be one’s strategy.

    From the Post:

    Validated data from the 2016 election, for example, suggests that only about one-third of 2016 voters had college degrees. The share among Hillary Clinton voters was higher, at 43 percent, but even among the more educated in the party, most people haven’t graduated college. And among college graduates, about 75 percent attend schools that accept more than half of applicants, rather than the kind of state university flagships or elite private universities whose graduates dominate the media. In my friend group, it’s not unusual for someone to be a lawyer or a doctor or to have a master’s degree in something or other. As a policy journalist, I speak to a lot of experts in academia or the think tank world who have advanced degrees.

    But in the actual American population distribution, there are more high school dropouts than people with master’s degrees. The median American under the age of 30 has $0 in student loan debt, not because the median young person is superrich but because most people didn’t attend expensive higher education institutions in the first place.

    I had not realized for USA general electorate it was so low on educational attainment but in a way

    The discourse of the online Lefty activists (and the commentariat the OTB has developed) is rather obviously massively skewed to the upper education spectrum of interests.

    Biden appears to have the public campaigning (not the bloody debates or other things that the egghead commentariat [said lovingly as a holder of two graduate degrees myself, ergo egghead] cares about] persona, the beer-aspect w/o aggressive stupidness of Trump

    @Jen:

    Warren is a stupid choice for VP, a handicap.

    Klobuchar, that would be a smart choice.

    Warren is Old and Coastal, you lot hardly need to double down on Coastalness, it’s the middle states that are the challenge.

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  5. Teve says:

    “America will elect a rapist before it’ll elect a woman.” -I don’t remember who last night.

    I’ve got two take aways, one is that a few people said that within the same demographic cohort, women voted for Warren twice as much as the men. The other is that someone observed that Americans generally vote for progressive ideas when they’re not scared, and right now they’re scared.

    So, i wish the outcome had been different, but we can’t endure a thousand more days of Trump, so Biden 2020!

    Hopefully Biden will put her in charge of a cabinet position or the CFPB, whose very existence demonstrates that not only does Warren understand the problems of inequity in America, she could also be effective at fixing it.

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  6. mattbernius says:

    @The Lounsbury:

    Warren is Old and Coastal, you lot hardly need to double down on Coastalness, it’s the middle states that are the challenge.

    Again, can you cite any actual *evidence* that VP candidates help geographically? Because there doesn’t appear to be any:

    https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/04/election-2016-vice-president-selection-matters-less-than-you-think-213805

    For the record, I get that this also can be taken to undercut my argument for choosing a VP candidate that adds representation for a key demographic group to the ticket. However, I think that is a far more untested premise due to the relatively serious recent inclusion of women and minorities at the top of the ticket.

    1
  7. mattbernius says:

    Warren now presents a very valuable test for Sanders: can he actually build his coalition and bring from adversaries in?

    Biden has won by doing that. And more importantly it demonstrates a really important skill for governing. In fact that’s been part of his explicit promise.

    Now its time for Sanders to demonstrate that he can do the same. After all, at least on the surface, it makes perfect sense that he should be able to unite the progressive side of the party. If he can’t pull that off, it doesn’t reflect well on either his ability to grow his campaign or his ability to form governing consensus if he was elected.

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  8. KM says:

    @The Lounsbury:

    Warren is Old and Coastal, you lot hardly need to double down on Coastalness, it’s the middle states that are the challenge.

    Every damn body in this race left is OLD and that’s how America seems to want it. It reflects the growing refusal our society has to admit that living longer =/= you are still with it, damnit. When we’re selecting our VP on very real basis the septuagenarians running could be dead before the election (looking at you, Bernie), it’s really sad that OLD is now an acceptable standard and 70 ain’t OLD anymore……..

    As for Coastal, what exactly does that mean? You’re gonna have to unpack that – is it “teacher-like judgmental” or perhaps “too intellectual”? *Trump’s* a Coastal-type seeing as how he was NYC to the bone before his inner Florida Man took over….. and he’s a Miami-type Florida Man, not Panhandle. What does Coastal mean when looking for a VP?

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  9. Gustopher says:

    @Teve:

    “America will elect a rapist before it’ll elect a woman.” -I don’t remember who last night.

    I’m pretty sure we passed that hurdle… Didn’t Trump’s divorce lawyers claim that you cannot rape your spouse? Then there are all the accusations against Bill Clinton. And if neither Trump nor Clinton were rapists, there are 43 others to look at.

    3
  10. Stormy Dragon says:

    Seen last night:

    Sanders is trying to win with the Trump strategy: outsider with limited but passionate base wins primary because the field is to divided to stop him even though he doesn’t have majority support.

    The problem for Sanders is that most Democrats like Biden, whereas most Republicans hated Cruz, so Biden is much better at consolidating the field.

    4
  11. Gustopher says:

    That so many people across the country showed up to vote for a candidate with no chance of winning is actually a remarkable testament to Warren’s connection with her supporters.

    As things stand now, I’ll still vote for her in a week when the Washington primary rolls around. Yes, she has no chance, but I really want to be able to vote for someone rather than just against someone.

    Well that and I don’t really know who will do better against Trump between Biden and Bernie. Biden is past his sell-by date and was never top-of-the-ticket material in his prime. Bernie is a shouty man shouting about the very real problems of economic inequality. In the end, I don’t want either but would be fine with either. But, if I can abstain from that choice and vote for someone…

    Plus, I’d rather have a beer with Warren.

    7
  12. Scott F. says:

    From Yglesias:

    The reality is that there aren’t that many people like us — and there’s a valuable lesson in that, not just about the Warren campaign specifically but about some of the larger dynamics in American politics.

    The lesson is technocrats, no matter how competent, need not apply. The country prefers demagogues and drinking buddies.

    This might explain why our country’s most vexing problems continue to go unsolved.

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  13. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Gustopher:

    And, if Selene Waters is to be believed, Reagan.

  14. Scott F. says:

    @Gustopher: I used this same thinking when I voted for Warren yesterday – down to the wish for a shared beer. If you saw her Colbert interview in SC, she’s pretty funny.

    Biden has to balance his advanced age and old school political leanings with his running mate. Though I think he beats Trump, I doubt he’ll have coattails with merely a Return to Normalcy pitch.

    1
  15. Teve says:

    @Scott F.: yeah,

    Warren’s fans often praise her intelligence, which I think is undeniable. Before she was a politician, she worked her way up through the hierarchy of legal academia to get a tenured post at Harvard Law School.

    She’s written several books — actually wrote them, not just slapped her name on something done by a ghostwriter — ranging from dreary academic tomes to highbrow nonfiction written for a general audience. I’ve read a couple of her books, and they’re good. There are a lot of bright, hardworking people in the United States Congress (I promise), but Warren’s intellectual achievements leave many of her colleagues in the dust, to the point where she was an influential policymaker before she ever won an election, thanks to her powers as a thinker and an advocate.

    Warren seems like she could do my job really well (and, indeed, we briefly overlapped as TPMCafe bloggers years ago). She’s the most interesting person in the field to talk to, and I don’t find it even slightly surprising that most people I know find her to be incredibly appealing and admirable.

    The problem is that politics is a numbers game, and we are not in the majority.

    1
  16. charon says:

    Warren couldn’t win for the same reason Kamala Harris, Cory Booker etc. couldn’t win – elderly warhorse clearing the lane.

    Plus, obviously, sexism hurt HRC badly and people are now spooked over “electability.”

    1
  17. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    In 16, Tiny was helped in the primaries by the winner take all rethug rules. In a crowded field he could win 20-25% of the vote and take all the delegates. Bernie lacks that option in 20. It has been widely noted that the Bernie/Warren lane this year was only 35-40% of the vote, what had him winning was the splintered moderate voters. In Biden v. Bernie, the numbers don’t favor Bernie.

  18. An Interested Party says:

    Bernie lacks that option in 20.

    And thank goodness for that…considering all the lame rules they’ve cooked up for the debates, it’s nice to see the Democratic Party doing something smart with their proportional primary rules…I’m sure there are plenty of Never Trumpers who wish the GOP operated using the same rules…