There’s an increasingly loud cry coming from certain corners of the media following the Iowa caucuses, and it reached its apotheosis Thursday morning with Joan Walsh’s piece in the Nation titled “The Erasure of Elizabeth Warren Continues.” (A few days earlier, she insisted in the same outlet that Warren had a movement that we “just haven’t seen” yet, so she’s clearly pushing this angle hard.) Here’s the crux of her newest argument:
Iowa conventional wisdom says there are only “three tickets out” of the caucuses, and yet coverage has curiously overlooked the woman who got one of them: Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. From the moment cable networks switched from her caucus night rally speech to Biden’s, Warren has been virtually erased..this despite the fact that Warren clearly beat the Democratic front-runner, Biden, and outperformed her numbers in the final Des Moines Register poll (spiked because of one complaint—one—from a Buttigieg supporter who said she wasn’t asked about him by a pollster), which had Warren in second at 18 percent; with 97 percent of the results in, she finished at 20 percent, in third, with Sanders and Buttigieg effectively tied (though Sanders on Thursday declared victory, and he may ultimately be right).
What Walsh and others want is for Warren to garner more coverage, but that want that coverage to be on their terms, and to conform to their narrative: Warren actually did really well in Iowa! She beat Biden!
The problem is, that story is plainly propaganda. First off, as you see from Walsh’s excerpt above, she only “out-performed” the spiked DMR poll by two points, which is a negligible increase unless it earned her a win. It did not. Warren finishing in third or fourth was exactly what was expected, and it’s exactly what she delivered. The fact that she defeated Biden might have mattered in an alternate universe where Biden performed strongly, but when the biggest story out of Iowa is “wow, Biden really flopped,” simply finishing one spot above him isn’t much of a thorn in one’s cap. In fact, it’s pretty meaningless without an attendant victory.
There are two lanes in this primary, the progressive lane and the centrist lane, and even pollsters like Nate Silver who think the idea of “lanes” is typically flawed have come to the conclusion that they’re demonstrably real in 2020. Coming out of Iowa, there was a winner for each lane: Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg. So if you’re keeping track at home, the three stories that mattered the most and therefore resonated the most—beyond the fact that the caucuses were an embarrassing and irredeemable clusterfuck on an organizational level—are, in no particular order:
—Pete Buttigieg did very well
—Bernie Sanders is probably the frontrunner now
—Joe Biden, previously the frontrunner, suffered a shocking and admitted “gut punch” and may be doomed
No dispassionate observer could see these three stories and still conclude that a fourth, “candidate who peaked in October, has faded since, and finished basically right where we thought she’d finish” deserves to share headline space.
Now, if we did want to throw more coverage Warren’s way, here’s what that would look like:
“Elizabeth Warren is fading, and her candidacy is all but dead.”
That may sound harsh, but it’s honest. She’s polling behind Bernie Sanders in just about every primary state on the calendar, her national numbers continue to dip (she’s a distant third now, but in danger of slipping below Buttigieg and even Bloomberg), and her only “lead” in the entire country comes from a Massachusetts poll from October. In New Hampshire’s primary on Tuesday, her best case scenario appears to be third place.
Of course, more neutral outlets recognize this, as we see from recent headlines that fall into the Warren-centric category:
—”After disappointing Iowa vote, Warren says she needs to be ‘careful’ with money,” Washington Post
—”Biden and Warren shift strategies after Iowa ‘gut punch,’” Washington Post
—”Warren tries to reassure New Hampshire voters after Iowa performance,” WBUR
A look at the demographics from Iowa makes the story look even worse for Warren: She lost to Bernie Sanders among women overall, women under the age of 44, young people in general, nonwhite voters (here, alarmingly for her campaign, she also lost to Buttigieg and Biden), nonwhite women, voters without a college degree, “very liberal” voters, “somewhat liberal” voters, “moderate” voters, and voters making less than $100,000 in household income at every level down to the poverty line.
Where did she win? You have to look hard, but the only two categories that favored her were college-educated women and urban college voters.
What this says is what her supporters have feared from the beginning: She appeals to a very limited demographic that will vote Democrat no matter what in the general election, has failed to expand her base, and loses to the other progressive candidate by sometimes whopping totals everywhere it matters. And in the meantime, she’s hemorrhaging money.
An honest evaluation of Warren’s candidacy at this point shows that she’s drawing dead. There’s no better way to say it, and those like Joan Walsh who believe she deserves more media coverage should be careful what they wish for. Walsh may want to believe there’s a secret movement about to rise up and lift Warren to the nomination, but the hard truth is that she’ll be lucky to make it to Super Tuesday.