I can’t help thinking many pundits missed the point when, in response to my recent story about Elizabeth Warren (“Hillary’s Nightmare”), they ticked off all the reasons Hillary Clinton would crush Warren in a potential primary matchup. It’s not that I disagree. In the piece, I describe how a Warren-Clinton primary might play out before concluding that “Warren would probably lose.” It’s just that I don’t think this is an especially interesting discussion. Most overwhelming favorites go on to win the race they’re running. The difference is that, in presidential primaries, how the frontrunner wins matters almost as much as whether they do.
Do they have to adopt an entirely new political persona (see Romney, Mitt)? Do they have to make big ideological or policy concessions? Do they have to replace one set of advisers with another? Do they have to break with a key constituency or embrace an entirely new one? This “how” tells us a lot about the party and where it’s headed. And it’s here where Warren’s influence is potentially enormous.
Weigel doesn’t let Scheiber entirely off the hook:
This was what I disagreed with. It’s one thing to say that a candidate can do more damage to a front-runner than any of us think. Those reporters tailing around Eugene McCarthy in 1968 got a hell of a story, even though McCarthy did lose New Hampshire. Sure. But as Nate Silver’s pointed out for years, leaving a lot of embarrassed pundits groaning in the corner, there are demographics and data points and factors that complicate Narratives but tell you who will actually win an election. It’s just ridiculous to point out that Warren might have an advantage in the New Hampshire primary without acknowledging that, when John Kerry was tested against Clinton in 2005, he got 40-plus points closer to the front-runner than Warren does now.
In another response to Scheiber’s piece, Hertzberg notes “the remarkable shallowness of the Democratic bench”:
Whether or not [Clinton] chooses to run, the supply of plausible alternatives is shockingly thin. The Republicans have an ample roster of men (and only men) who are readily imaginable as nominees, even if thinking about some of them as Presidents (step forward, Ted Cruz) requires contemplating about the unthinkable. On the other side, there’s Joe Biden, our septuagenarian Vice-President. There’s Andrew Cuomo—another legacy case. After that, the list drops off rather sharply. Martin O’Malley, governor of Maryland? Sherrod Brown, senator from Ohio? Alec Baldwin? Who else?
Dear God, not Alec Baldwin.