What I saw at the Elizabeth Warren rally
It's always useful to know what a campaign is like, the lay of the land, so to speak, the supporters, the campaign operation, the candidate herself.
Here in San Diego, Elizabeth Warren paid a visit Thursday, so I went, taking my elderly mother, blending into the crowd to learn how things looked from the Democrat side.
The most obvious takeaway is that Warren is rising. Based on her own energetic appearance and stump speech, it's pretty clear she's now begun campaigning as if she's got the Democratic nomination in the bag, and she's now attempting to move to the center.
It's not surprising. There has been a de facto collapses of her Democratic rivals. Joe Biden is imploding over the massive corruption of his family political machine. Bernie Sanders is effectively out based on his age-related medical issues. Kamala Harris has been a goner ever since Rep. Tulsi Gabbard excoriated her over her appalling record as a prosecutor at the second Democratic debate. The rest are pipsqueaks. Neither Warren nor her campaign operatives mentioned any of that, but her San Diego stop showed rather obviously that Team Warren's response to that has been swift and the Democrats are consolidating. Now Warren is attempting to move toward the center as Trump's likeliest opponent.
That's presented some problems of its own in that she's up till now campaigned on a hard-left ticket. Socialism is a hard-sell to the mainstream, and now she has to win over people who aren't on the hard left - the soft left, the moderates, the independents, maybe some Republicans. Having to shift gears reveals some weaknesses in the Warren plan to win, because it's always tough to disguise an economy-destroying socialist platform. How weak? Enough that it's doubtful she can beat Trump.
About 8,200 San Diegans and Democratic political activists as far east as Wyoming, maybe beyond, came, and the staff packed them in on the dried up, drought-conditions lawn of Waterfront Park. Nevertheless, the venue had palmy harbor views and the cool spectacle of large jets descending for landings at the nearby airport in the background which allowed for some nice camera shots. The campaign had a big California state flag up, and the attendees had a smattering of campaign signs, with about one out of ten wearing some kind of lefty t-shirt, some quite obnoxious (lot of "Moscow Mitch" ones). A few wore costumes — Lady Liberty, or those red capes and white bonnets from The Handmaid's Tale. The transvestite and transsexual community was prominent. One of the campaign organizers who escorted the handicapped attendees to their seats a very nice young man with green hair wearing a long skirt and woman's floppy hat.
What were the lefties attending generally like? They were blue-city America, and actually, friendly. They were decidedly left, with a hard edge against Trump, overwhelmingly professional-class whites, which is about par for a blue city where only the truly well off can afford housing. There were a lot of nice and considerate people - the young man who insisted on clearing his litter as he vacated his seat for a handicapped person (they called it ADA for Americans with Disabilities Act), the lovely party activists from Casper, Wyoming (with one of them from nearby Santee) who gave my elderly mother one of their own fold-up chairs since she was faltering in line. Their young adult daughter wore an "Impeach the M--F" button and had a fierce semi-punk rock, very urban appearance with bright red lipstick, but this was a striking contrast to how they responded to actual people in real life. We had a delightful conversation about organic gardening and differing growing seasons in the Wyoming and San Diego zones. They spoke of phone banking and encountering many residents there not being up for political activity much right now due to the need to weatherize their homes for winter, though this would clear up after the first snow.
The LGBTQ population seemed overrepresented, with many denizens of the hipsterly North Park and Hillcrest enclaves of San Diego. Another observation was that the blue-ification of Southern California seemed to be real. There were party enthusiasts from Temecula, Miramar, Santee - these are heavy-duty red enclaves of San Diego. With so many, this trend toward blue may be real. By contrast I didn't see any presence from the historically grittier areas - Chula Vista, National City, Imperial Beach, El Cajon, some of which have large working class and ethnic minority populations. There were just a few black people, but that could be reflective of San Diego's relatively small black population. What did stand out is the lack of Mexican-Americans and Asian-Americans at the rally. San Diego has a gargantuan Mexican population, something like 40 percent of the county, and a large Asian-American one, too, with the Filipino-American community prominent. The lefty voters among both groups were absent, which is bad news for the classic Democratic formula of cobbling together an identity-politics coalition. If Republicans want to win back Southern California, they'd be smart to target these populations because they aren't kenning to this increasingly mainstream branch of the Democratic Party seen in the Warren campaign.
What was Warren's campaign operation like? Very nimble and organized. They were almost all friendly and helpful, and their setup and swift cleanup, as well as crowd communication, and policing of lines and sections in the operation, were very good. Only a couple of staffers acted frazzled, maybe from overwork, or maybe just from being leftists. The Warren political machine overall was practiced and proactive, with staff very helpful, fair, and accommodating to attendees.
Then there was Warren herself — who, if you could set aside her politics -- was impressive. She came out to speak right on time after a couple of short introductory speeches from the local lights, exuding energy and looking like a million bucks. She spoke with no teleprompter. She moved naturally on the stage, facing every side of the crowd, which kept them engaged. She was slim and fit as a 30-year-old, and her hair and natural-looking makeup were flawless. Seeing her up close, it was possible to conclude that she probably had some "work" done on her face and neck, but it was good work and natural enough to not be noticeable unless you were looking for it. She spoke with "valley girl" turns of phrase, which, combined with the other factors, made her seem much younger than her seventy years.
Speaking just objectively (in the way Miss Universe judges judge just how a candidate wears her evening gown, not the gown itself), she got several things down well for a political speaker. She faced the crowd and addressed all sides, she used humor effectively (which is a Trump strength she can counter), and she came off as warm and genuine, humanizing herself by beginning her speech with her personal story, telling quite seemingly believable stories of her family and their economic struggles in Oklahoma. As her story built, it was clear she was positioning herself as 'the middle class' in a bid to counter President Trump who could then be portrayed as 'the rich.' There was a mention of her childhood desire to become a public school teacher teaching her lined-up dolls, her move to New Jersey as a young newlywed, the issues she faced when she got pregnant, but no mention of eventually moving to Massachusetts as she scaled the career ladder, which wouldn't have bothered this crowd if she did, but supports the idea that she was trying to move to the center. She artfully ended her story with her jouney to 'law school' and law teaching positions, not mentioning that these were ivy league schools. Based on her telling of the matter, she was remaking herself as regular Jane.
She was charmingly self-deprecating about her reputation for nerdiness, almost making fun of herself by saying: 'I've got a plan for that' as she moved into the policy portion of her speech. She broke that into three easily bite-sized pieces, speaking first of corruption in the system, second of the need to reform government, and third, of the need to protect democracy. They were actually all vaguely stated and full of euphemisms and packaging, so as to not expose them for the raw socialism they were. At the end, in a nod to the crowd, she brought up her support for single payer health care and illegal immigration reform, assuring them that while she did not have space in her speech for them, she remained in favor of those positions. The takeaway? She didn't want to get anything on the record in the papers to call attention to her extremist positions on those matters. By not saying anything beyond what she already said, she could keep the lefty base happy but not generate any new headlines for the broader base of voters on her controversial positions. Again, a move to the center, a positioning for the general election.
And most tellingly, there was not one mention of President Trump's name. She mentioned Mark Zuckerberg with a lashing tone, but not Trump, and this was a crowd that would have enjoyed a negative mention of Trump. So, it was pretty clear again she was speaking for an audience well beyond the Democratic base.
She did have a couple of weaknesses. After her speech, she took questions from the crowd, efficiently determined by lottery. The first question was clearly a hard one for her and she did not do well, at least from a Trumpster's point of view. Someone asked her how she would re-unite the country which would include people who voted for Trump once she got into office. She played for time with that, repeating a couple of times what a good question that was, but wasn't fast on her feet to say something like 'well, I would focus on things we have in common' or something. She played for time by bringing up that two of her brothers were not Democrats, leaving it pretty clear to the audience that they were Republicans and Trump voters. But she still didn't answer the question. She knew that, and she wanted to respond to the man, so the effort she made in that direction was to say that everyone agreed on gun control -- which is the sort of thing that not only isn't true, it's actually a mistaken assumption that amounts to divisiveness which won't win over any Republicans, nor even independents. That didn't work. It was redolent of the Obama administration's practicee of canceling Republicans from any input into his policies, saying he was the great unifier, and calling any dissidents fringe extremists. She wasn't fast on her feet there. But also, it was probably because it wouldn't be easy for her to make any efforts to unify. She's a lefty and has no moderate positions to glom onto even as she's trying to portray herself now as a moderate to win the center.
Her other weakness was in her nerdy policy speeches - by the time she was droning on about preserving 'democracy' it was boring as heck, and being able to read the crowd, she seemed to recognize it. Any discussion of her actual plans is a no-win for her, given that the lefty crowd in front of her isn't interested, and the broader center she's clearly seeking to win over now is not going to like it if she gets too particular. So, talking about her actual ideas is a weak spot for her, something Trump will hopefully seize on as the two eventually clash on the campaign trail.
She playfully said she knew what the crowd really wanted as the energy dragged near the third point of her policy speech - selfies, which was perfectly true. And in a sign of some rather superhuman energy, after what had to be a tiring speech, she offered to pose for selfies with everyone in the crowd who wanted them. The staff had that set up very efficiently and my mother and I got into the line. We met her, she was very, very nice, we exchanged nice words and appreciation for what she was doing, I told her it was my mother's first rally, and the staff took a good picture and led us out the well-delineated rope exit so others could get their selfies. It was a sweet gesture and I must say, I've got kind thoughts for any candidate who's kind to my mother.
What did I see? A pretty strong candidate, with a pretty strong campaign operation. A warm and genuine person who's managed to minimize some of the natural problems of being a lefty intellectual yet hasn't quite perfected it. A significant move to the center.
She's going to be tough challenge for President Trump, but against his brilliant presidential record on the economy, and his own electric stage presence, she will probably, all the same, be beatable. She's strong, but she's not Trump-strong.
Images credit: Monica Showalter.