It’s silly season — and Warren has to play along

It’s silly season — and Warren has to play along

We don’t learn much from game of presidential dodge-and-weave

THE TALK ABOUT the 2020 presidential campaign seems to be kicking into gear — and it’s getting tiresome already.

It’s not the effort to try to divine the dynamics of an election that’s more than two-and-half years away that is most absurd — though that surely qualifies, too. What’s truly grating is the cat-and-mouse drama being played between the press and would-be candidates.

Playing the lead role in today’s version of this silly set piece is Elizabeth Warren. The Bay State’s senior US senator is up for reelection this fall, and she swears three ways to Tuesday that this is her sole electoral preoccupation. Except that she is laying the groundwork for a possible 2020 presidential run through a busy schedule of speaking engagements, donations to every state Democratic Party in the country, and an affinity for mixing constituent-focused town meetings across Massachusetts with plenty of national TV face-time.  And everyone knows it.

This past weekend it was appearances on CNN, Fox News Sunday, and NBC News, where “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd pressed Warren endlessly on a possible presidential run. When she said she wasn’t running, he shifted to asking repeatedly whether she would pledge to serve a full six-year term if reelected, which she answered by saying she has “no intention” of running for president.

By all accounts, a politician can’t seek reelection to his or her current seat while professing interest in a race for a higher office that looms just around the corner. That leaves Warren in a no-win situation.

The Boston Herald tees up a Hillary Chabot column on yesterday’s antics with a front-page headline, “LIZ PLAYS DODGE BALL.” If Warren comes off seeming evasive it’s because she is. But if she were to “slip” and tell the truth about her ambitions, she’d be asked nonstop by reporters how she can justify seeking another term in the Senate — not to mention the ammunition it would give her Republican opponent this fall. So, like so many before her, she plays along.

This should hardly be surprising news, but politicians generally are an ambitious lot. The US Senate has long been one of the most consistent launching pads for presidential runs (even if one could reasonably question the wisdom of that, given the poor track record of those following this path).

One-third of Senate members are up for reelection to their six-year terms in the election two years before a presidential contest. Given the realities of today’s nearly permanent campaign cycle, senators in that group with White House ambitions must juggle a reelection campaign with whatever steps they are taking to set the stage for a possible presidential run. Since they can’t be frank about the fact that they are operating on dual tracks, they resort to the time honored dodge-and-weave.

Mitt Romney has yet to even join the Senate – though his election to a seat this fall from Utah seems all but assured – and there is chatter about the chances he could make a 2020 run for president. Romney’s endless shape-shifting on every issue under the sun may be unseemly, but running for a Senate seat while dreaming of even bigger things really isn’t.

If it is, the leader of that club would have to be the only person who has gone from the Senate to the White House in the nearly 60 years since JFK pulled it off in 1960. And Barack Obama did it without even completing his first term on Capitol Hill.

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

There are plenty of wily moves made by politicians that are worth knocking them for. This shouldn’t be one of them.