Media Buzz

The Elizabeth Warren fantasy: Why the press insists she might run

Justin Duckham on what might happen if Sen. Elizabeth Warren runs for president


When it comes to Elizabeth Warren, the press won’t take no for an answer.

She says she’s not jumping into the 2016 fray, and my colleagues don’t care. It doesn’t matter what she says. They’re going to push the idea anyway. A Hillary runaway is just too boring to contemplate.

The woman who’s been a senator for a little over a year is having a moment because she’s out peddling a book. And that has given TV types a chance to pepper her with questions about the White House.

The turning point for me came a couple of days ago when ABC’s David Muir whether she was going to run.

“I’m not running for president,” Warren said.

“There’s nothing that could change your mind?”

“David, like I said, I’m not running for president.”

“And do you think Hillary Clinton would make a good president?”

“I think Hillary Clinton is terrific.”

The next day, I saw all kinds of cable news segments on whether Warren really meant it. The pundits parsed her words: Aha! She used present tense but didn’t rule out running in the future! She ducked the question on Hillary as president!

This is just sad.

It’s not that politicians never break their words during this kabuki dance. Barack Obama told Tim Russert he wouldn’t run for president either.

And Elizabeth Warren is an interesting character. I’ve seen her talk about how her mother went to work at Sears to feed four kids after her dad had a heart attack, how they had to give up the family station wagon, and how her bumpy childhood convinced her to fight for the middle class against the big banks. That’s a message with resonance on the Democratic left.

But why the media have to frame every single debate around is-she-running—the same goes for Jeb Bush and his comments on immigration—is hard to fathom. Except that yakking about the handicapping for 2016 is easier than analyzing the issues of 2014.

Matt Bai, the former New York Timesman who decamped to Yahoo, says he doesn’t believe Hillary can clear the Democratic field and that someone will run against her:

“Should Clinton ultimately decide to run, someone will emerge to channel the energy of the antiestablishment opposition, to portray her as too compromising and too corporate. And she could do a lot, lot worse than to have that someone be Elizabeth Warren.

“Warren's backers are probably right that there's a wide lane in Democratic politics for running against corporate excess, and if Clinton doesn't run, an incursion like that might really take off. But as John Edwards found out in 2008, it's not an easy thing to portray Hillary as a stooge for Wall Street, no matter how much of its cash she vacuums up. For most Democrats, her last name is still synonymous with the prosperity of the '90s, which is one reason why – even after she publicly rushed to the defense of Washington lobbyists – working-class white voters overwhelmingly supported her over Obama.”

Still, Bai concludes that “Warren's got to be too smart to swallow the hype about taking on Hillary.”

Many still invoke a “Hillary’s Nightmare” story in the New Republic last fall:

“As in 2008, Greater Hillaryland, if not the Clinton campaign itself, would quietly work to disqualify Warren as a crazed, countercultural liberal …

“A Clinton-Warren matchup would have all sorts of consequences, none of them especially heartwarming. The most immediate is that Warren would probably lose. Though Warren has been boning up on a variety of policy areas in periodic dinners with experts—she told me there are several issues beyond Wall Street ‘we need to have frank conversations’ about without naming specifics — she remains a work in progress as a politician. She is still pedestrian in front of a crowd despite her strengths as a questioner and debater, and her Senate campaign last year was bumpier than it should have been. At this stage in their careers, Clinton is simply easier to visualize as president.”

Joe Trippi, Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign chief and a Fox News contributor, is quoted as saying Warren doesn’t pass the experience threshold. But, he added, “Neither did Obama till the campaign.”

Of course, when the Elizabeth Warren speculation machine slows down, we can always kickstart it with this question: What if Hillary doesn’t run? 

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Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.