Elizabeth Warren, the presidency, and perils of a first-term senator
First-term senators are getting quite a bit of media attention, courtesy of the latest parlor game, “Is Elizabeth Warren running for president?” All the senior senator from Massachusetts had to do was publish a folksy memoir to generate loads of speculation about her designs, or lack of them, on the 2016 presidential race.
Politicians have a long history of downplaying their presidential ambitions, so Warren’s denials have done exactly nothing to quell the talk about her “real” intentions. Wednesday’s Bay State visit by Hillary Clinton, the putative Democratic nominee, will only intensify the chatter about which of the two women is more likely to run and win.
The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza has vowed to keep tabs on Warren’s answers to the 2016 queries as she winds her way across the country on a media tour to promote her new book, A Fighting Chance. Plus, the newspaper is already asking how she could become the Barack Obama of 2016.
Yet Warren, who has reached iconic status within the liberal wing of the Democratic Party in a very short space of time, suffers by comparison with Obama. The president’s inability to make Capitol Hill’s legislative machinery work for him has been chalked up, in part, to his political inexperience, with less than one full term in the Senate before landing on the opposite end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Republicans have their own bench of itching-to-get-in-the-game senators. GOP elders aren’t too crazy about them either. Former senator Robert Dole cautioned three of them, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio, earlier this week. “I don’t think they’ve got enough experience yet,” Dole said.
(Rand countered that one could have “too much” experience, before noting that he wasn’t taking a jab at Dole, who served in the Senate for nearly 30 years before unsuccessfully running for president in 1996.)
Conservative commentator Thomas Sowell of the Hoover Institution has bashed Cruz for his Obama-like traits. “Freshman Senator Ted Cruz says many things that need to be said and says them well. Moreover, some of these things are what many, if not most, Americans believe wholeheartedly,” Sowell said in a February column. “Yet we need to remember that the same was true of another freshman Senator, just a relatively few years ago, who parlayed his ability to say things that resonated with the voters into two terms in the White House.”
First-term senators with designs on the White House won’t relish comparisons to a president whose popularity is currently at an all-time low. But those comparisons are inevitable. After eight years of a Washington outsider, it may be difficult for first-term senators to make the case that being new to the ways of Washington is a trait voters should look for in future presidents.
Arguably, the most successful president in the domestic legislative sphere was a man who spent his first term in the Senate making his way up, not to the presidency, but to the position of Democratic minority leader. His name? Lyndon Johnson, the “Master of the Senate.”
*Correction: Due to an earlier technical issue, “Sponsored Legislation” page on Sen. Warren’s Senate website appeared blank. There are 12 bills listed on the website.
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