Elizabeth Warren may not even win her own state tomorrow. Though a recent Boston Globe/WBZ TV/Suffolk University poll shows Warren neck-and-neck with Bernie Sanders in Massachusetts, FiveThirtyEight’s polling average shows Bernie Sanders with a five-point lead overall, and Warren’s lack of an obvious lead does not portend great things for her candidacy. Second place would be an ignominious result for Warren, and yet it would be her highest finish of the primary. Massachusetts remains the only Super Tuesday state that Warren could feasibly win. There is one way for the senator to preserve her dignity while advancing the progressive cause she espouses, and that is to drop out of the race — and endorse Sanders.
For Warren’s supporters, this will be difficult to accept, and for good reason. The senator has spoken movingly of her working-class background, and introduced a slate of generous policies that represent long overdue corrections to corporate power. In debates, she can be fearsome. She is probably the first person to publicly humiliate Michael Bloomberg in years, and she has proven herself to be something of a rarity in American politics. There are few Democrats who make the case for changing the government’s priorities as consistently and persuasively as Warren.
But her campaign has struggled since its launch. Warren, whose very brand is earnestness, never fully recovered from the revelation that she had falsely claimed Native American heritage for years. The fault for this lies with Warren herself, not just for making the claim in the first place, but for how she responded to criticism. Her decision to undergo a DNA test further angered indigenous writers and activists, for whom the act was an insult to tribal sovereignty. Last week, 200 tribal citizens signed a letter to the Warren campaign outlining inadequacies in the candidate’s previous apologies; the campaign responded with a 12-page footnoted letter, which invoked the most cartoonish stereotypes of Warren as the candidate of liberal wonks.
Warren’s decision to reverse herself, and accept super PAC funding after previously rejecting it, muddled her image further, as did recent criticisms of Sanders. The senator is — rightly — known as a brawler, someone who took on the Obama administration and other members of her own party on behalf of American consumers. That’s Warren at her best, and it’s the Warren that drew the support of organizations like the Working Families Party. But Warren undermined herself by fashioning herself into a unity candidate, someone who could unite her party’s left-wing with its center. Warren had burned too many bridges with the establishment herself in order for the unity tactic to work; by feeding stereotypes about the viciousness of Sanders’s supporters, she may have only succeeded in alienating herself from her natural allies. Warren has isolated herself. It’s a dangerous position to be in.
And now her campaign is running out of steam. Despite a fundraising boost after a stellar debate performance in Nevada, she has yet to really distinguish herself in any primary contests. Pete Buttigieg has already exited the race, even though he’d placed higher than Warren in every primary vote so far. The news that Amy Klobuchar, too, plans to drop out of the race, and that she and Buttigieg will both endorse Joe Biden later on Monday, only makes Warren’s decision more urgent.
In a recent memo, Warren’s campaign manager, Roger Lau, argued that their internal projections show the candidate “winning delegates in nearly every state in play on Super Tuesday, and in a strong position to earn a sizable delegate haul coming out of the night.” He then seemed to raise the spectre of a brokered convention. “But as the dust settles after March 3, the reality of this race will be clear: no candidate will likely have a path to the majority of delegates needed to win an outright claim to the Democratic nomination,” he wrote.
But it would be a catastrophic error in judgement for Warren to remain in the race till the convention. She has no realistic path to the nomination right now and Super Tuesday probably won’t change the math in her favor. Superdelegates wary of Sanders aren’t suggesting her as an alternative; in interviews with the New York Times, they suggested Chris Coons, or Michelle Obama. They dream of centrists, not progressives. Warren can’t be the nominee. She can only be a spoiler. In the process, she’d sacrifice her well-earned reputation as a liberal with a genuine populist streak.
The best thing Warren could do for the progressive cause she espouses is to drop out, and endorse Sanders. By doing so, she could still make a real difference in the race. While it seems intuitive that Warren voters would flow to Sanders without much encouragement, Sanders performs poorly with the white, college-educated voters that make up the bulk of Warren’s base. If she can make the case for Sanders, she’ll help build a progressive front against a moneyed and well-organized moderate force. The time to do so is now. The obstacle in the way of a more progressive future for Americans isn’t Sanders, but the coalition forming around Biden. If Warren wants a righteous fight, this is it.