On Sunday, Senator Elizabeth Warren drew the largest crowd of her campaign so far when 15,000 people showed up to her “town hall” outside the International Fountain at the Seattle Center. Staff originally planned to hold the event at WaMu Theater, which seats 7,000, but 20,000 RSVPs to the town hall convinced the team to switch to a larger venue.
The size of the crowd is good news for a candidate who has been hovering at second or third place behind Senators Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders since early July.
Fifteen thousand is an auspicious number, too. The same number of people attended a Sanders rally at Safeco Field the day before he swept the Washington caucuses in 2016. Warren pulling the same number in August is either a) just kinda fun, b) even more evidence that Seattleites love them a wonky Democrat on a nice day, and/or c) evidence that Warren is about to have a break-out moment.
Whatever the case, there were a lot of people there, and they were all practically dying of heatstroke in the 72-degree sun (😏, but seriously) as they waited for a slightly tardy Warren to take the stage.
I’m covering the @ewarren rally in Seattle this afternoon. Her team moved the event from WaMu Theater to the Seattle Center to accommodate interest. Seems like a good move, judging by the crowd size. pic.twitter.com/uNJuoXWbMX
— Rich Smith 🥀 (@richsssmith) August 25, 2019
"The Next President of the United States" Thinks Durkan is a Progressive
State Senator Joe Nguyen, who sponsored a tax on wealth inequality during the last legislative session, introduced Warren as “the next President of the United States,” and then made his case for electing to office people from underrepresented groups, broadly gesturing at Democratic bills passed earlier this year by the most diverse legislative body in Washington state history.
Finally, Warren took the stage. Before launching into her standard stump speech, she praised Governor Jay Inslee for using his presidential campaign to highlight climate change. She then acknowledged the existence of U.S. Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, and praised Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan as “a progressive mayor for a progressive city.”
Some members of the crowd balked and groaned at that characterization of Durkan, who folded under pressure from Amazon during the head tax debate shortly after the company spent $325,000 in support of her candidacy. Was Warren’s description of Durkan revelatory? Just a gaffe? Or was it indicative only of the knee-jerk solidarity within party politics? Twitter will decide.
Though people give Senator Joe Biden flack for his nostalgic pitch to return America to its pre-Trumpian…uh…glory, Warren’s speech was also a bit of a nostalgia trip. But the difference is her origin story is full of details designed to make millennials and “working families” want to knock doors for the next several months, or else throw themselves into the ocean.
For example: Times were hard growing up as a poor girl in Oklahoma, but Warren’s mom saved the family from ruin and eviction after scoring a single, full-time minimum wage job, which at the time was enough to support a family of three. “Today, a full-time minimum wage job in America will not keep a mama and a baby out of poverty. That is wrong, and that is why I am in this fight,” she said, drawing one of the louder cheers of the afternoon.
Later on, Warren said she paid $50 per semester in tuition for a commuter college, a sum she could afford on a part-time server’s salary. The audience gasped. When she mentioned the relatively low cost of law school back in the day, a wave of murmurs swept through the crowd.
Apparently, people used to be able to afford education, child care, health care, in this country. Corruption prevents us from doing so now, Warren argues. And the only way to make government work for people again and not for lobbyists is to follow three steps.
Step 1: Call out corruption when you see it.
Step 2: Fix big money’s influence with “big structural change,” one of the campaign’s slogans. She pointed to her proposed Wealth Tax by way of example. That proposal would raise 2.75 trillion through a 2% tax on people with more than $50 million, and a 3% tax on people with more than $1 billion. With the money, Warren would fund universal childcare and pre-K, tuition-free college and vocational schools, increase Pell grant funding and funding for historically black universities, and also cancel student loan debt for 95% of debtors.
“I don’t propose a wealth tax because I’m cranky. I don’t propose it because I’m mad at anybody,” she said, taking a dig at Sanders. “All I’m saying that’s different for the bazillionaires is, in addition to the real estate, how about we include the stock portfolio, the diamonds, the Rembrandt, and the yacht?”
Step 3: Protect democracy by ending gerrymandering, rolling back “every racist voter suppression law in the country, and overturning Citizens United.”
Depending on how you want to read it, Warren either did a great job with the Q&A portion of the “town hall,” or she only did okay.
In answer to a question about defending LGBTQ rights, for instance, Warren went off on an unrelated preamble about fixing the criminal justice system before eventually getting herself back on track. She ultimately criticized the Trump administration for forcing trans people into prisons that don’t align with their gender identity, but during her answer she also suggested that “straight” was the opposite of “trans,” which would be news to any straight trans person. That slip-up was minor, and it didn’t really suggest a lack of knowledge on Warren’s part, but if you’re speaking to 15,000 people in Seattle you gotta have the answer to that LGBTQ question in the can.
Warren made a better point about electability during her Q&A, and it’s one worth thinking about a bit.
The Problem With Saying "Anybody But Trump"
When asked how she planned to counter Trump’s chaos during the race, Warren said, “I know how to fight and I know how to win. You don’t back down from a bully,” echoing the Friday Night Lights rhetoric driving her campaign. But then she added, “We’re not going to win this by saying 'just not Trump.'”
This “anybody but Trump” mentality is deadly and pervasive. People say it because they don’t want to “repeat the mistakes of 2016” by not falling in line behind the Democrat, but when they say it they are actually repeating one of the biggest mistakes of 2016.
This sentiment assumes that the Democratic party needs to build bridges with Trump supporters who voted for Obama in order to win the next election. But that’s not what Democrats need to do. As many analysts have pointed out, Democrats need to rebuild the Obama coalition of young people and people of color. They need to inspire people with new ideas. They need to get the millions who didn’t vote off the couch and to the polls.
The more people cede their decision-making to white men living in the midwest, the more likely it is that we’ll get some kind of “consensus” pick who does not inspire people, and who does not even seem to know what state he’s in sometimes. But the sooner people allow themselves to get behind a candidate, the easier it will be to figure out who people actually like, and the less likely it will be that we end up with Clinton 2.0.
And Warren, on Sunday and in general, makes a pretty good case for herself.
Three hours later @ewarren photo line still wrapped around the park in Seattle. She’s still going since she doesn’t have a fundraiser she’s got to off to.
Blue arrow = EW
Red arrow = End of line pic.twitter.com/xaDHLeYo1R
— Kristen Orthman (@KristenOrthman) August 26, 2019
As far as I’m concerned, one of the primary non-human causalities of the Trump administration has been the federal government itself. Acting heads currently run 14 federal agencies, including Homeland Security, the OMB, the FAA, the FDA, OSHA, and ICE. EPA officials “are leaving in droves,” according to the New York Times.
So job number one for the next president will be to rebuild the administrative state. As the only candidate who has actually created a government agency, Warren is in a very good position to do just that.
She’s also adopting a winning rhetorical posture in response to Trump’s total chaos mode. Of the top contenders, Bernie is speaking to the country's anger and the desire for revolution. Biden is trying to tap into nostalgia. Pete Buttigieg is trying to reclaim the “Republican values” of “freedom” and “family values” in an effort to bridge divides. Kamala Harris is “prosecuting" the president.
All of these modes seem incomplete compared to Warren, who projects both tenacity and reassurance in equal measure. She has a plan to clean up Trump’s mess, and you can read all about it in her growing list of substantive policy proposals. But she’s not just dropping a bunch of papers on our desk. She uses storytelling to show how her policies will affect people in their daily life, always making sure to tie her experience with the experience of voters.
Warren’s approach appears to be working—even with suburban white people. According to a new poll from Data for Progress, Warren does way better with Democrats and Independents in swing districts than Biden does.
But who cares what I say?
What the People Say
I interviewed a bunch of people at the rally yesterday to get a sense of why they like Warren. It was particularly interesting to hear from people thinking about switching from Sanders to Warren.
Kayla is mostly impressed with Warren's long list of "amazing policies." Foreign policy and women's rights are the big issues for her this year. Though she was living abroad in 2016, she said she would have voted for Sanders in the primary. This year, however, she's thinking of voting for Warren over Sanders. "I really, really appreciate Bernie and how he’s paved the way for progressives. But, to me, Elizabeth Warren—she kind of has that edge," she said. "But whoever it is—I mean, I’ll vote for a glass of water," she added.
Warren is a front-runner for Braxton. "I like her Medicare plan and her stance on social justice issues," he said. "I think a lot of the other Democrats aren’t speaking up on those issues or are saying the wrong things."
Though he voted for Clinton in the primary in 2016, he says he would have voted for Sanders knowing what he knows now. But this year, at this point, he likes Warren better than Sanders. "From what I’ve seen, I think Warren has more tangible plans than Sanders. I don't disagree with a lot of what Bernie is saying, but a lot of it is more vague—not as concrete. That’s why Warren has a slight edge for me," he said.
The big issue for Jeremy this year is immigration. And though he doesn't think immigration is at the top of Warren's list of priorities, he aligns with her on so many other issues—namely "corporate greed, corruption, and climate change"—that he thinks it's okay.
"She’s got her shit together about all these issues," he said. "Many of the candidates are good candidates, but she seems a cut above all of them.”
Jeremy voted for Clinton in 2016 and can’t stand Sanders. “He’s a scold! No one wants a scold around. I don’t, at least," he said.
Balogun said she'd been looking to get more engaged primaries, and coming out to Warren's town hall was her first step in beginning that process.
Balogun relates to Warren's policies and rhetoric, saying they "come from a place of logic and rationale, and an understanding that we need to take care of our communities but knowing that comes with a certain sense of responsibility financially." She also called Warren "trustworthy" and "consistent."
Both of her parents immigrated from Nigeria when they were college-aged, and so her connection to immigration issues is personal. “We have to come at [immigration] as a country with the perspective of dignity and respect, and I think that Warren definitely illustrates that in the way that she speaks about the issue," she said.
Balogun voted for Clinton in the primary in 2016, and said she's also considering Harris and Buttigieg.
Carolyn is leaning toward Warren because she likes her policies. "She's a very dynamic speaker," she said. "I think she is bright, she has ideas, and she wants to make changes. And that’s great."
In 2016, she "held her nose and voted for Clinton," but this year she's thinking about Warren over Sanders.
"Bernie has very young ideas and he’s dynamic. But, from a 70-year-old, he’s getting a little up there in age. I would want the president to last for eight years. I think he could. I think he’s got way younger ideas than Joe Biden, and he’s certainly in better shape than Trump, need I say more about that," she said.
"But I talk to people, especially a lot of young people, who say that if Warren or Bernie don’t get the nomination this time they’re not sure what they want to do," Carolyn added. "I think it’s important, regardless who’s running, if you don’t like what Trump is doing you have got to vote for the mainstream Democratic party candidate. Right now we have a two-party system, and you just gotta deal with that."