A very funny dynamic is beginning to emerge in the 2020 presidential race, and at the heart of it is the conflict between Trump Republicans—who want mainstream/liberal media to do their dirty work on various Democratic candidates during primary season—and mainstream media itself, which is loathe to criticize Elizabeth Warren no matter how many stories the opposition pushes. As the Daily Beast reports, this reality is starting to make Trump’s people very nervous.
There are three people with legitimate chances to win the primary—Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren—and Team Trump feels like they have at least a temporary handle on two of those three. In Biden’s case, he’s proven to be even worse at campaigning in 2019 than in his other failed races (there’s a new aura of perpetual confusion to go along with the usual gaffes), and in Bernie’s case, mainstream/liberal media attacks him routinely, and with glee, to the point that even the fact checkers can’t hide their bias.
Things are different with Warren, though—as she’s climbed the polls this summer, to the point that she seems to be in second place in about half of them, nobody in the corporate press is touching her despite her progressive positions. Part of that stems from the fact that she’s not quite as radical as Bernie, so she’s more palatable to outlets like the Washington Post, part of it may be that media is reluctant to attack a female candidate in the aftermath of the 2016 election, and part of it, if you want to get a little conspiratorial, is that promoting her functions as a divide-and-conquer strategy by the center-left and could ensure that neither Warren or Sanders gets the necessary votes to challenge Biden, thus keeping a progressive out of the oval office. In any case, Republican strategists are right that she’s benefited from the kid gloves treatment all summer.
All of which, apparently, is driving them nuts. Per the Daily Beast:
“We all push out the bad Warren stories but they don’t go very far,” one Republican strategist said.
The frustration Republicans are beginning to feel about Warren’s non-stick nature was picked up repeatedly in interviews with 10 Republicans, including Trump campaign and White House officials, associates of the president, and other GOP operatives with knowledge of the situation. These sources stressed that the anti-Warren effort within GOP circles hadn’t fallen off since the DNA snafu. Indeed, everyone from officials on Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign, to the Republican National Committee, to a select group of opposition researchers have been sifting through her record in search of vulnerabilities. But with few punches landing, the worry is that Trump may have already taken his best shot, and that Warren will end up looking increasingly formidable for having bounced back.
That “DNA snafu” was a pretty big self-own, and made me think Warren had demonstrated all the wrong instincts for the race, but as the GOP people say, she’s come storming back this summer and stands a real chance to win the primary. Another worry for the right is that while the yahoos of the country might hate Warren, they’re not going to hate her as much as Hillary:
“Sure the Republican base will ultimately loathe Warren, but she doesn’t inspire the same kind of historic vitriol that Hillary Clinton did,” a separate Republican strategist said. “That, combined with fact that SCOTUS isn’t on the line as it was in ’16, and remembering that Trump needed the perfect inside straight to barely win last time, and any Democrat is going to be tough to beat, Warren included.”
Even Trump is worried:
According to three people who have spoken to Trump about Warren over the past two months, the president has specifically highlighted what he views as her surprising political and populist talents during the Democratic primary, and has told multiple advisers and associates that he hears she could be “tougher” in a general election than many initially expected. One of these sources said Trump asked the room if they thought Warren was a “fighter.”
Good question! To the extent that the general election will be decided by strength of personality, Trump is going to want to make his opponent, whoever it is, look weak. After the DNA debacle, it appeared like he had done exactly that with Warren, who played into his taunting and managed to embarrass herself. Since then, things have changed…or they seem to have changed, anyway.
Some of Warren’s momentum owes itself to the fact that she’s in the Democratic primary, and at this point isn’t having to face Trump voters or independents in great numbers. This is her base, and while the mainstream media loves regaling the public with her progress over the summer, the fact is that she still only has about 20% of the party’s support, which makes up less than 10% of the overall population. Clearly, other Democrats will support her if she ends up winning the nomination, but the larger question is whether the ghosts that haunted her before the primary will re-emerge for the general, or whether the Republicans are correct in worrying that she’s managed to make herself invulnerable.