Certain Presidential campaigns have the texture of money—of organization, of talent, of intentionality. It’s an obvious kind of quality: the difference between shopping at a Whole Foods and a Pathmark. For the past year, in the Democratic primary, Elizabeth Warren’s campaign has had that texture. Some of this quality was expressed in obvious ways: Warren’s landmark nighttime speech in New York’s Washington Square Park in September, set against the lit white arch before a crowd estimated at twenty thousand. The selfie line, a wonder of choreography in person, had the bespoke intricacy of a Wes Anderson scene. The Warren campaign developed a signature color, “liberty green.” The thorough policies that were unveiled each week were developed by a large, talented, connected policy staff. If rival candidates felt sidelined (and many of them did) by the relentlessly positive press Warren seemed to receive from roughly April until October of last year, then they ought to have considered how impressive the human machine behind Warren seemed. Voters fall for candidates. Reporters fall for campaigns.
Warren spent on people rather than ads. Her campaign had a high burn rate, everyone warned. What made her rivals jealous were her organizers—the phalanx of young people, many of them women, who clustered along the sides of her events, looking intent, and who then spread out into the precincts to carry (and, in truth, embody) Warren’s confidence that talent, expertise, and commitment could excise corruption and remove Donald Trump from power. Young staffers on liberal political campaigns often display the slightly censorious cheerfulness of a resident-hall adviser, but the Warren organizers possessed a hawkeyed attention to detail and the essential American energy of malaria eradicators. “The operation has been the envy of all her rivals for months,” Gabriel Debenedetti wrote in New York, in January. Recently, an endorser of a rival campaign asked the Washington Post’s Holly Bailey, “It’s, like, where did they find these kids?”
This fall, as Warren made some obvious strategic errors—overestimating the enthusiasm for transformative economic policy among her base of professionals and relying too narrowly on an activist ethos to win the support of voters of color—her campaign harbored the hope that its army of talent would carry it. But in Iowa last week, and then in the New Hampshire primary, this Tuesday, it became obvious that it couldn’t. At the critical debate last Friday night, Warren receded. “Having seen how amazing the Warren operation was for a year, it’s just depressing to see them panicking now,” an aide to a rival campaign told me at a New Hampshire event on Monday. [Continue reading…]