Warren Campaign Holding Its Fire

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)

We ran across an interesting story in Politico today detailing a somewhat-unconventional communications strategy being employed by the campaign of Democratic Presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren. In short, Warren’s campaign is making a conscious decision to disengage from the standard practice of returning fire on all fronts:

Her surrogates and campaign aides aren’t going on cable TV to defend her — even as her rivals and their aides are constantly on shows bashing her. Warren advisers haven’t taken to Twitter to shape “the conversation.” There’ve been no statements from Warren HQ calling out rivals by name. Even when former Vice President Joe Biden portrayed Warren as an out-of-touch elitist — while he was attending a fundraiser with real estate moguls, offering the corruption-focused Warren a freebie rebuttal — the campaign kept quiet.

The only response of note to the elitist charge was a subtweet the Warren campaign posted Wednesday with a video about her humble upbringing and challenges as a young mother.

The campaign’s refusal to engage this week has baffled rival campaigns and some Democratic strategists. But it’s not an outlier. Internally, communications director Kristen Orthman refers to the approach as “blinders and bulletin board” — as in, put your blinders on to the horserace drama and stick your retorts on a bulletin board rather than tweeting them out. (Orthman has an actual bulletin board on which she also posts critical stories about Warren as a motivation tool.)

“Fighting on Twitter most of the time does not advance our goals,” said one campaign official in explaining Warren’s refusal to follow “The War Room” ethos that political campaigns have hewed to for decades. In short: All attacks must be publicly returned, and then some.

Warren’s communications strategy is baffling to the likes of James Carville, the longtime Democratic political consultant who popularized the idea of a campaign “war room” during Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign for President.

“There is much more to be lost in attacking fellow Democrats than there is to be gained for a news cycle or two.”

— Unnamed Democratic strategist quoted in Politico (11/8/19)

Warren is polling well and raising good money for her campaign, so this strategy of not engaging in a tit-for-tat with her opponents is a decision she has the luxury to make at the moment; candidates who are struggling on both fronts may not feel as though they have the same sort of choice. If Warren loses ground in the next month or two, of course, then this strategy could go out the window.

We certainly agree that it makes sense to not get stuck responding to the story of the day on a regular basis, and it’s hard to argue that Warren’s decisions haven’t been paying off to this point. Critics will argue that a candidate must always be on the offensive against a potential opponent like President Trump, but perhaps not engaging in Trumpian distractions is exactly the correct way to deal with his vitriol.

Overall, we’re a bit undecided on this approach. What say you, Polsters?


24 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. ParkHill says:

    To me, it demonstrates a sense of confidence. Warren is "surfing" (i.e. balancing) on the waves.

    She is then able to engage when and where she wants.

    Trump is reactive and aggressive all the time, but that style wouldn't work well for Warren, I guess as a woman and also as a more intellectual person. She's not going to out-Trump Trump, so she needs to play to her other strengths.

  2. RepealAndReplace says:

    This reminds me of the Michael Dukakis strategy.

    After he was nominated, he went to vacation in Berkshires and refused to dignify Daddy Bush's trashing him about the ACLU, Boston Harbor pollution, rumors his wife participated in flag burning, and ultimately Willie Horton. It was beneath Dukakis to respond.

    By the way, wasn't Dukakis another Harvard professor turned pol from Massachusetts. Just saying….

  3. Meiner49erMeiner49er says:

    I'll grant that it may not have been an effective strategy in the past, but campaigns fighting the last battle usually lose.

    If there's one thing Americans can agree on in 2020 it is that we've had enough of the Twitter Tantrums and would like to see some dignity restored to the office.

    In politics, as in theatre, "give the people what they want" is generally pretty sound policy.

  4. Raphael says:

    Obviously this could go overboard if she wasn't engaging with voters about anything, but that's not the case and that's why I think this does work for her.

    When James Carville was running campaigns, candidates needed to respond to the media because they needed to go through the media in order to communicate with voters. Not to say that voters don't consume information from the media still, but between all of the rallies, direct voter outreach, and social media validators that the Warren team is emphasizing, it really undercuts the value of traditional media coverage.

    Think of it this way: many people consume news via social media now — you see an article by the WSJ because you follow their page or because someone else you follow shares it. So in theory, point for the Carville view, right? You should make sure you have a good response in that story from your war room in order to push your own narrative. BUT, now say the next item in your feed is a picture of your old friend from high school or your favorite cousin or whatever posting their selfie with Warren. Or sharing the campaign's most recent local volunteer endorsement, or even knocking on your door/using that new Reach app thing to tag you about her. Which of those impressions is going to make more of a difference on the average voter's behavior and vote?

    Yes that WSJ article might be from a reputable source and contain some salacious gossip, but my bet is on the personal validator. The impact of a direct contact, and particularly the influence of a voter's personal network on their vote really can't be overstated. And that's why I think this works from Warren. If she wasn't getting out there, both herself and her campaign, and hustling hard to have this type of contact and influence, yeah she'd probably be screwed since all there would be is the coverage of every random right wing attack. But she's not. To address R&R's point from above, anyone who has seen or been to one of Warren's events can accuse her of going on vacation or anything. She seems to be doing more events than anyone, and getting incredible draw to them.

    Ultimately I assume their campaign has come to the conclusion that they will never be able to respond completely to every wild accusation and crazy story that will be published about her. So instead of wasting time chasing every one out there (because it's also not like they're completely disengaged from the press, they're clearly still pushing good stories about her too), they're betting on this personal validator/influence tactic in order to be the most effective combatant to it all. And it seems to be working for her.

  5. Duke CoxDuke Cox says:

    I am going to remind everybody who keeps trying to predict the future by remembering past presidents and past campaigns…you are kidding yourself. There has never been a president like the Orange Destruction. He is an anomaly in American politics

    He did not attain his position through merit or accomplishment. Intellect nor character were a factor. The Donald became the most powerful simpleton in the world by using the media, subverting the law and regulation at every opportunity, and by creating a phony persona.

    He was propelled to this day by an inconceivable narcissism, aided by an army of adoring dupes who believed he was the powerful leader they saw on TV. That army of voters has been lied to, exploited, and irrevocably harmed by the hatred stoked everyday by the Hater-in-Chief.

    I refer anyone trying to predict outcomes to the Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov. Specifically, the character of the Mule…a mutant that nearly conquered the galaxy be cause his unpredicability perplexed his opponents so.

    The point is…I take any predictions with more than a grain of salt. The OD has surprised all along and there has never been an America and an American body politic like the one we have today. Prediction is simply a way of creating a platform for your own political POV. Especially for certain concern trolls.😄

    • kwtreekwtree says:

      +20 Duke for the Foundation reference. ( Also your other points)

    • RepealAndReplace says:

      By all means…..

      If it didn't work out so well in the past, just keep trying over and over again. Eventually you'll get a better result.

      All kidding aside, it is not secret E.W. is not my first choice for the Democratic nomination. (Although I will vote for her if she is the nominee. Can you say the same, Duke, about Mike Bloomberg?)

      If she wants to try this "new" approach ("new" as in it hasn't been tried in many years), maybe she is on to something.

      • Diogenesdemar says:

        So, you prefer new “new” ?! . . .

        . . . as in, trying to pin “Dukakis” on Warren, instead of “McGovern,” for once??

        Good point.

        Wonder who’ll be next: Mondale? Kerry? Adlai Stevenson (twice, gimme’ two hits)? Alton Parker? . . .


        • RepealAndReplace says:

          I don't know about Alton Parker, but you see the pattern, too, Dio.

          Adlai Stevenson famously said that a woman came up to him and said, "You are going to win. Every thinking person in America is going to vote for you!" to which Stevenson reportedly said, "I'm afraid that won't do, madam. I need a majority."

          This got me thinking about the other side of the ledger. What kind of Democrats have won.

          John F. Kennedy ran as a cold warrior promising to stand up to the Soviet Union. His economic policy was summed up by "a rising tide raises all ships." A big tax cut which was the forerunner of trickle-down economics.

          Kennedy could also give inspiration speeches and set lofty goals that the entire nation could unify behind. "Ask not what your country could do for you. Ask what you could do for your country." Today we get candidates promising voters that their country will provide them will all sorts of free stuff.

          Lyndon Johnson did implement some big government-spending programs in the mid '60's. But how did Johnson get elected in 1964? Johnson ran eleven months after Kennedy was murdered. He had the good fortune to be running against an ideological zealot whom Johnson was able to depict as unstable. ("In your guts, you know he's nuts.")

          Johnson also had the support of Richard Russell and the racist Dixiecrats. Read Robert Caro's bio on how Johnson skillfully maneuvered between the northern liberals and the southern segregationists throughout his career. (Today, Biden is trashed because he realized in the 1970's, there were times he needed to deal with the racists assholes in order to get something done.)

          Jimmy Carter ran as a centrist and was attacked by the left in 1980 for having done so. In fact, one of Ted Kennedy's motives for running in 1980 was Carter's refusal to push for universal health care. How did that work out in the 1980's?

          Bill Clinton and DLC saw the mistakes of the preceding 12 years and vowed not to make them again. Call it the War Room, call it triangulation, call it centrism, call it Republican-lite, call it what you want but it worked.

          Barack Obama declined to run as a hard leftist and ended up being the only Demcrat in my lifetime besides Johnson who managed to win over 50% of the popular vote.

          You have to admit, there is 70 years of history here.


          • Diogenesdemar says:

            I do see the historical pattern here, R&R: . . . 

            . . . hindsight is always 100% correct in its prescience when building the narrative it chooses for its service today.

      • Duke CoxDuke Cox says:

        I guess I will keep saying it until you hear me.

        Vote Blue…No Matter Who.


    • VoyageurVoyageur says:

      It's worth remembering that the Mule had the power to read minds.  Stinky Boy does not.

  6. VoyageurVoyageur says:

    Hari Seldon predicts Edgy Boots will win in Iowa.

  7. kwtreekwtree says:

    Warren is saving her fire for Trump, which I think is smart. And she has a great ground game, second only to Sanders. As Raphael wrote, personal contact is what counts in the long run. 

    Bloomberg’s candidacy is a distraction; he’s hoping to push the window of debate rightward, to a more favorable position for Wall Street. Eric Holder would be a more significant threat to all the candidates. He takes away Biden’s Obama shine, is smarter and less gaffe prone, will appeal to voters yearning for a return to lawful, ethical leadership. 

    If Warren is the nominee, she’ll need a better social media strategy than Hillary had; those carefully targeted,  Russian troll crafted memes were pernicious. Maybe people are more sophisticated this time around- but Facebook is still committed to running profitable fake news. 


    • RepealAndReplace says:

      Warren is saving her fire for Trump

      I'm picturing it:  the Ivy League professor eruditely trying to participate in a debate on weighty public policy issues with the class clown making armpit fart noises and calling her nasty names.

      Don't be surprised if Warren wins the popular vote (by as much as 5,000,000) while Trump is re-elected in the Electoral College.

      • Conserv. Head Banger says:

        Yup, dude (R & R), you got a good point. Best person to restore the Blue Wall in the upper Midwest, plus PA, will be Amy Klobuchar.

      • kwtreekwtree says:

        In the scenario you project, Warren wins the debate. Not every midwestern white male has your same hatred and contempt for intellectual women or professors. Warren comes across as “cares about people like me” , unlike Trump. He got away with that populist Schtick in 2016. More see through him now. 

        She thinks on her feet, is sharp at debate and at delivering punchy one-liners. Trump will have been impeached by then, so even if the Senate won’t convict and remove, he’ll be walking wounded. 

      • ParkHill says:

        On this point I kind of agree with R&R. 

        First of all, you can't have a debate with someone who just spouts lies. Trying to engage he just brings you down to his level where "you get all muddy and the pig enjoys it."

        But the big problem is that Trump isn't engaged in a "debate". For him the debate is a dominance performance.

        I recall the debate where Trump was menacing Clinton by looming up over her. A response would be to start telling stories to the women in the audience about footsteps echoing in an empty late-night parking lot or the creepy boss who sneaks up behind you when you're making copies.

        In other words, break the normal format of a debate in a way that Trump wouldn't understand, and couldn't quite respond to.

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