One of the mysteries of this election cycle was the fairly sudden drop in Elizabeth Warren’s popularity that led to her poor performance in the early primaries and eventually dropping out. There have been several theories put forward and this article by David Dayen suggests that it was due to the pernicious influence of campaign consultants who think that they can ‘package’ a candidate to make their appeal broader but in doing so risk ending up removing the very qualities that made them appealing to the people who used to support them and now they seem less authentic.
To begin at the beginning, Joe Rospars should never be allowed near another progressive campaign. His role as the Warren campaign’s chief strategist ultimately falls on the candidate, who for years identified with the phrase “personnel is policy.” Warren’s most important personnel choice was a disaster, and he cost her the primary.
Rospars was responsible for positioning Warren to the electorate. If you asked me to identify Elizabeth Warren’s talents as a politician, I would simply say that she’s a fighter. Witness her performance in hearings that would so damage the reputations of (mostly) male financial titans that they would quickly resign in disgrace. She fought the Obama administrationwhenever it strayed from putting the public interest over the interests of financiers. The fights displayed her first principles: a populist champion of the little guy, battling a rigged system.
Under Rospars, Warren decided to highlight how she had a very nice golden retriever. “They chose … Bailey over ‘blood and teeth,’” said one anonymous staffer to Politico, referring to an old quote where Warren said she would rather have no Consumer Financial Protection Bureau “and plenty of blood and teeth left on the floor” than a weak agency. Several staffers complained that Rospars tried to soften Warren’s edges, make her less polarizing, and generally erase the thing that made her a political rock star in the first place. Campaigns that express a fear of letting the candidate act like the candidate rarely succeed.
It’s a chief strategist’s job to move the campaign onto terrain where their candidate holds the sharpest advantage. Rospars’ inability to make a campaign with Elizabeth Warren in it about Wall Street for a single day reveals his catastrophic leadership.
He says that Warren’s backing away from the Medicare For All and from her earlier hardline opposition to Super PACs contributed to making her once-sharp image as a fighter to a more fuzzy one of a conventional politician. Her brief moments of rise in popularity were when she attacked billionaire Michael Bloomberg but that was not followed up by more sustained critiques of the wealthy. The lack of attention paid to Wall Street was not entirely her fault since the debate moderators did not ask a single question about it.
Dayen argues that progressives in general do not focus enough attention on the evil practices of the financial sector.
But it’s worth holding progressives to account for this as well. The organized groups involved in this primary took no opportunity to highlight finance’s role in the economy, in inequality, in climate policy. They don’t really seem to care about it; they’re uncomfortable highlighting it and discount it as a concern. You cannot ignore such an overwhelming and malignant force in politics. Ceding ground on Wall Street equates to ceding ground on power.
I am sure that there will be more analyses.