Impeachment Has Killed Elizabeth Warren's Momentum
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because impeachment has rocked the Democratic primary too.
Susan Del Percio
Susan Del Percio is a New York–based Republican strategist and senior advisor to the Lincoln Project.
It’s hard to believe that less than two weeks ago the big political news was about Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s big jump in the polls, most notably in Iowa. On Sept. 21, she narrowly overtook former Vice President Joe Biden in the Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll, with 22 percent of likely Democratic caucusgoers on her side. Warren was thumping third-place Sen. Bernie Sanders by double digits.
Three days later, the political world stood still when Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the U.S. House of Representatives would initiate a formal impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump. This momentous event occurred after news broke of a whistleblower complaint claiming that Trump used his office to solicit foreign assistance to discredit potential political opponent Biden.
Impeachment is and will continue to be the main topic in the news cycle, followed by new revelations and the endless reporting of breaking news. In short, it will be extremely difficult for anyone or anything else to break through until the House finishes its investigation and votes.
This leaves Warren exactly where you don’t want to be.
But let’s go back to Sept. 21 and the tremendous news for Warren. Her somewhat shaky campaign rollout is a memory, and she has steadily built up her base. Warren has a message, ground game and, yes, a plan for everything. She is also the only candidate out there who looks like she’s actually enjoying running for president. So the day that poll came out, Team Warren should have been on top of the world.
However, when you reach such heights, you better watch out for people to start knocking you down. Another important thing to keep in mind: In politics, timing is everything.
Before the earth-shattering announcement of the impeachment inquiry, all eyes were on Warren. There was a lot of talk about how she would handle her new standing in the polls, especially since it means she would now be the subject of attacks by her opponents. Of course, Donald Trump is never one to disappoint. He revived the “Pocahontas” smear about Warren’s minuscule Native American ancestry just as she started to take off in the polls.
In addition, many were asking if she peaked too soon. Previous front-runners the fall prior to a primary have not done well. Take Rudy Giuliani, a name you might recognize in the news lately. In September 2007, he was dominating in the polls for the Republican presidential nomination. Then the opposition research dropped, a few bad news items hit and he ended up in a free fall.
Ironically enough, the leading Democrat in the field was Hillary Clinton. In October 2007, Gallup reported that its “national presidential polling strongly points to Clinton winning the 2008 Democratic nomination. Barring something unusual or otherwise unexpected, she is well positioned for the 2008 Democratic primaries.”
We all know how that turned out. Perhaps you are thinking cautionary tales of front-runners would apply more to Biden than to Warren, but it’s important to consider that Warren was the candidate with momentum. She was storming the news until the words “impeachment inquiry” passed Pelosi’s lips.
Due to the nature of the whistleblower’s complaint, all eyes were on Biden. How would he respond? Would this story upend his campaign? After all, there is nothing swampier than a child making large sums of money from foreign entities while his father is vice president of the United States.
As it turns out, nearly two weeks later, it doesn’t matter much. According to a Politico/Morning Consult poll out Tuesday, virtually every candidate stayed the same from the previous week, and Biden maintained his 11 percentage point lead over Warren, both nationally and in the first three states of the Democratic primary.
This is not to say that Biden’s numbers will stay the same, but it is bad news for Warren. Her momentum has been halted, probably for a while given the news cycle, and Biden is still standing. All of the Democratic primary candidates are wary to go after Biden openly when he’s the protagonist in a struggle against Trump, so they will probably try to find the best way to take on Warren.
This leaves Warren exactly where you don’t want to be — peaking too early, having your momentum stopped by political mayhem and being the No. 1 target for your opponents.
Unfortunately, it looks like the upcoming debate on Oct. 15 in Westerville, Ohio, will be an overstuffed 12-candidate affair, allowing little room for Biden and Warren to square off.
Biden has a chance to really stand out with a presidential-looking response to the charges levied against him by the president. Warren will have a much harder charge. She will have to reinvigorate voters on her policies, create a “moment” to regain traction, prove she is electable and, most of all, fend off all of the incoming from the other challengers. That’s an awfully big order that I doubt she can fill.