Elizabeth Warren Is Treating Bernie Sanders As the Leader of the Democratic Party

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Photo: Barry Chin/Boston Globe via Getty Images

The political world is understandably paying enormous attention to Senator Elizabeth Warren’s agreement with the proposition that the 2016 Democratic presidential nominating process was “rigged” against Bernie Sanders. It represents an assertion of malfeasance by a major party leader who endorsed Hillary Clinton in the primaries last year, an assertion that even Sanders himself has not made. And so Clinton enemies from bitter Sanders supporters to Donald J. Trump have joyfully cheered Warren’s statement.

But in the same interview Warren also said something that is not drawing much attention, and it’s not about the retroactive argument over what happened in 2015 and 2016:

“This is a test for Tom Perez,” Warren continued. “And either he’s going to succeed by bringing Bernie Sanders and Bernie Sanders’s representatives into the process, and they’re going to say it’s fair, it works, we all believe it, or he’s going to fail. And I very much hope he succeeds. I hope for Democrats everywhere. I hope for Bernie and all of Bernie’s supporters that he’s going to succeed.

Warren is pretty clearly saying that Bernie Sanders and his supporters will be the arbiters of the party’s nominating process looking forward to 2020. That’s remarkable. It gives the Sanders “movement” a unique status in the party, more or less as compensation for the terrible wrong done to them in 2016. And Warren is also suggesting the unhappy afterlife of the Sanders/Clinton competition not only can but should continue until the People of the Bern are satisfied.

It’s more than a little unclear how that’s supposed to happen. The fundraising and staffing arrangement that Donna Brazile has injected into the simmering discussion of the 2016 primaries, which is the proximate cause of the current controversy, obviously isn’t going to recur in 2020; whoever runs for president, no one is likely to be in the dominant position Hillary Clinton occupied in 2015. And a lot of the state party primary rules that were originally the basis for (frankly not very compelling) claims that Clinton stole the nomination from Sanders are set by state legislatures (a majority of which are controlled by Republicans), not Tom Perez or the DNC. So exactly what is it Perez is supposed to fix, and Sanders and “all of Bernie’s supporters” are supposed to bless?

I can’t answer this question, or the related question: What is Elizabeth Warren thinking? Perhaps she misspoke or simple wanted to convey her anger at what Brazile had disclosed. But it sure looks like she’s designating Bernie Sanders as the leader of the Democratic Party for the time being, with the DNC functioning at his sufferance. It’s always possible she wants to run for president in 2020 and believes Sanders will not run; her new solidarity with the Sanders movement might be useful in that circumstance. But Warren really owes it to her party to be a peacemaker instead of an instigator when it comes to the chronic Democratic temptation to fight the last war.

Warren Is Treating Sanders As Leader of the Democratic Party