Every Democrat wants to know who can beat Donald Trump. None has a crystal ball, though many remain in pursuit of the elusive mirage that is electability. Despite the undeniable momentum Senator Bernie Sanders has gained in recent weeks, the party’s presidential nominee is in no way a foregone conclusion. Only three states have voted, and 97 percent of delegates are still up for grabs. The time is right to back the best candidate in the race.
It bears mentioning that any of the top six Democratic primary candidates would make a better president than the current occupant of the White House. Each has virtues. Pete Buttigieg is whip-smart and brings a war-zone veteran’s credibility to military matters. His calmness under pressure creates a welcome contrast to a president who tweets insults at world leaders. Joe Biden has appealed to diverse voters and has laudable legislative achievements, like the Violence Against Women Act, to show for his decades of public service. Mike Bloomberg has led admirably on gun violence and climate change. Amy Klobuchar has brokered bipartisan deals in a polarized Congress. And Bernie Sanders has, since 2016, reshaped the political conversation on the left to focus on long-neglected drivers of inequality.
But one candidate stands out as a leader with the qualifications, track record, and tenacity to defend the principles of democracy, bring fairness to an economy that is excluding too many Americans, and advance a progressive agenda. She would fight the corruption and corporate influence that distort our politics, lift up working families, and combat gun violence and climate change. That candidate is Elizabeth Warren.
Senator Warren sees corruption, including the influence of corporate money in elections and of lobbyists in the legislative process, as the gateway problem that impedes progress on crises plaguing both the country and the planet. The National Rifle Association and its lobbyists, for instance, prevent the popular view among citizens — that guns and particularly assault weapons ought to be better regulated — from prevailing as policy reform. The fossil fuel industry has thwarted legislative efforts to address climate change, long a widespread concern and now a priority of a majority of Americans. And health care companies, including pharmaceutical companies, have fought back common-sense policies that would make medicine more affordable.
Senator Warren’s diagnosis of what ails the democratic process is sound, and her pledge to the Globe editorial board, when we posed one of our readers’ questions, is that she would make battling corruption her signature legislative initiative before tackling any other. It is a worthy cause — a root evil worth going to the mat for — in an era of historic dysfunction in Congress.
But Warren’s fight to disinfect our politics wouldn’t stop there. She calls for mandatory disclosures of presidential and vice presidential candidates’ tax returns, and for banning the trading of stocks among active members of Congress and federal judges, as well as White House staff and Cabinet secretaries. She would also board up the revolving door between lobbyists on Capitol Hill and officials who serve in public office. She would secure voting rights so that “every person has a voice in our democracy.’’
Fearless and brilliant on her feet, Warren has the greatest potential among the candidates to lay bare Trump’s weaknesses. The Senator gets the most mileage when she brings her fight not to caricatures of billionaires in wine caves but to the real people in the room with her — whether businessmen or bureaucrats — who have failed to fulfill the responsibilities of public service or whose plans for the country are half-baked or ill-conceived. (She’d also be wise to lay off commenting on competitors’ physical attributes.)
What elevates Warren’s candidacy is that she consistently advocates for policies that have a firm backbone of empirical research and financial analysis, and she supports a robust research enterprise for the wider benefits it would deliver. In the Nevada primary debate, she argued for a tenfold increase in scientific investment to tap growing markets for green technology and tackle climate change. Her climate agenda is among the most ambitious of the Democratic candidates, and her gun violence plan is grounded in the documented success of policies here in Massachusetts.
It is Warren’s efforts to put money lost by reckless bankers during the financial crisis back in people’s pockets, and to protect consumers from predatory lenders and credit card contracts, that give her the bona fides to be president. She built a broad coalition of support and doggedly negotiated to create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, attracting extraordinary talent of the kind that populates her campaign today and would bolster a Warren administration.
No one should expect the same Warren who can bring the fight to Trump to be fully embraced by the entire country, but her candidacy would be bolstered by showing more of her capacity to unite the party and yes, even the polarized factions of our society. “We win when we come together,’’ Warren said in her rousing speech on the night of the New Hampshire primary. She should heed her own advice; in the general election, a candidate who rallies Americans to a common cause will be more potent than a candidate who points at what divides us.
Warren is at her best when she is responsive to where voters are on policy prescriptions. While altering past positions is often criticized in political candidates, flexibility is her comparative virtue. Unlike Senator Sanders, whose ideological adherence to his agenda often flies in the face of facts and evades precise figures, Senator Warren is willing to adapt to changing circumstances and political concerns. She has, for example, backed away from an instant transition to a single-payer health care system. She voted in support of the recent US-Mexico-Canada trade deal, a pivot from her purist objections to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Where others may see weakness, this board sees strength in her instances of nimbleness, and a reflection of her longstanding penchant for evidence as a driver of policy decisions. It hints at what is hopefully a willingness to compromise to accomplish real results when intransigence would sabotage a broader agenda. If Warren wins the nomination and the presidency, we would urge that she not barrel ahead to force a health care reform that lacks the support of a Democratic majority, but rather bring a broader Democratic coalition together around an achievable end. She would need to undertake similar coalition-building with our international allies to restore the trust Trump has squandered.
Where it counts, however, Warren is and should remain unwavering — for instance, in her commitment to correct the failures of capitalism without throwing it out the window. She is fiercely dedicated to helping those who have been left out of the American Dream, whether they are the working families who cannot afford the cost of housing, childcare, medicine, and education today or the Black, brown, and LGBTQ people who have been systematically marginalized and discriminated against in our society.
Like almost all the Democratic candidates, Warren has a gap to fill for success in November: She has articulated much of what she is against — Donald Trump, corruption, corporate fat cats. But she has yet to fully articulate an easy-to-grasp vision of the country she is fighting for, one that rises above her specific (and bold) plans. What does it look like to have an economy that is more inclusive or communities that are solving climate change? What does a post-Trump politics feel like for everyday people? What does a Warren White House look like on the world stage, and how does it lead on human rights? And what’s the case for change she’ll make in a general election, where some voters feel not pain under Trump but rather some measure of progress in the form of jobs or padded stock portfolios? Can she inspire the country with a vision and not just motivate voters with the repellent that is the current president? Change is hard to grasp. The ideal nominee would paint the future for us, and tell us what a new administration would look like beyond the absence of corruption.
In December 2018, this editorial board expressed doubt that Elizabeth Warren should run for president. She has proved us wrong and has shaped the course of the race for the better. The electorate, at least in recent polls and in the early states, is signaling its preference for the profound change that underpins Warren’s agenda. Sanders has been the main beneficiary, but is less likely to deliver; he has shown no ability over the course of his career to build broad legislative coalitions. Warren is uniquely poised to accomplish serious reform without sacrificing what’s working in our economy and innovation ecosystem. She would get under the hood to fix the engine — not drive off a cliff, but also not just kick the tires.
Our senator brings her heart and her head to an election where so much, including the future of our neighborhoods, the justice system, and the planet is at stake. On that score, there can be no doubt: Elizabeth Warren will fight for the integrity of our democracy and for our society’s most vulnerable. Massachusetts — and for that matter, South Carolina and other Super Tuesday states — should give her the chance to keep doing it.