Batman and the Joker. Cady Heron and Regina George. Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner. Throughout our culture and society exists those essential relationships between protagonist and antagonist that ultimately come to define each.
Each character in the pair is the other's raison d'être—they give each other a purpose as well as a worthy opponent to face off against.
Today we see a budding pairing that could reasonably be the defining driver of the 2020 presidential campaign—President Donald Trump and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.
The brash blue-collar billionaire and the elitist East Coast progressive academic couldn’t be more different while also being so similar—they are natural political foils. Each lives to destroy the other and while it isn’t high art or elevated political discourse they serve up, it is for now at least more than a little entertaining. Better start bracing ourselves now for the coming Campaign of Insulting Codependence.
During his remarks to the NRA in April 2017, Trump reminded activists in attendance, “You’ll have plenty of those Democrats coming over and you’re going to say, ‘No, sir, no thank you – no, ma’am.’ Perhaps ma’am. It may be Pocahontas, remember that.” Pocahontas is Trump’s favorite pseudonym for the Massachusetts Senator based on her claims of Native American lineage while a professor at Harvard. During the 2016 campaign Trump lit up Twitter tweeting, “Our Native American Senator, goofy Elizabeth Warren, couldn’t care less about the American worker…does nothing to help!”
Senator Warren has never shied from hitting back, or adding fuel to the fire herself, warning Trump via a June 17, 2017, article in The Hill, “Donald, you ain’t seen nasty yet.” Warren also deploys the classic Democrat lines of attack against Republicans on Trump, writing in a Washington Post op-ed, “Trump’s words and deeds are…examples in a long line of Republican tactics that are poisoning our political system,” and an October 19 tweet saying, “You can’t run a campaign based on hating women, African Americans, Muslims & immigrants & expect to win, @realDonaldTrump.”
Both Warren’s and Trump’s bases eat this stuff up. And the hits between these two just keep coming.
We were treated to a preview of this silly codependence during this past week in the latest dustup over the GOP health care bill. Warren opened this latest salvo from the Senate floor saying, “People will die. Let’s be very clear: Senate Republicans are paying for tax cuts for the wealthy with American lives.”
She elaborated, “How to pay for all these juicy tax cuts for their rich buddies?” she asked. “I’ll tell you how: Blood money.”
“Blood Money?” That’s a little harsh even by Senator Warren’s standards. President Trump responded in a Fox News appearance with his usual deft touch saying about Warren, “Well, I actually think she’s a hopeless case. I call her Pocahontas, and that’s an insult to Pocahontas. I actually think that she is just somebody who has got a lot of hatred, a lot anger. I don’t think she has the kind of support that some people do.” Boom goes the dynamite!
And so it will go—an insult-fest that widens the chasm between the left and the right in this country.
It may be a sad state of our discourse, but it’s one we all better get used to. Elizabeth Warren is running for president and her codependence on Trump for material, and his for hers, is just getting started.
Both Trump and Warren represent the perfect bogeyperson (have to be PC!) to their respective bases.
The central question of the 2020 campaign will be which constituencies will turn out? Trump’s band of “Deplorables” or Warren’s Campus Comrades?
Either way, the coming 2020 campaign is likely to focus on this incessant silliness instead of the substantive policy debate we delude ourselves into thinking might happen every four years. If you think Trump vs. Clinton was a sophomoric romp, just wait for Trump vs. Warren.
So put on your red MAGA hats and your social justice warrior armor and enjoy the show. The low road is about to get lower.
Patrick Griffin is the founding partner and CEO of Merrimack Potomac + Charles. He has served as a media consultant and Republican campaign strategist for four presidential campaigns including Presidents George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, former Secretary of Education and current U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.