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Nobody Actually Knows


I recommend Rebbeca Traister’s profile of Elizabeth Warren in its entirety. But this is especially great:

Warren and I are ostensibly addressing the anxieties about her 2012 race, but we could just as easily be considering a more current set of anxieties. I ask her if some people told her specifically not to run in the wake of Coakley’s loss, and she nods her head yes. “It wasn’t only, ‘Don’t do this; look at Martha Coakley.’ It was, ‘Don’t do this; we’ve already been forced back enough, don’t push us back farther.’ ” What she took from this, she says, was the realization that “the losses [of women] are so personal that they make it harder for the woman after that and the woman after that.” We’re definitely not talking about Martha Coakley anymore.

Warren holds my gaze as she continues: “At the end of the day, you just can’t let that [stop you]. You could’ve said to me, ‘You’re going to get all your skin burnt off,’ and my answer would have been, ‘That’s going to be part of the prize.’ Every person who said to me, ‘Massachusetts won’t elect a woman,’ or, worse, ‘When you lose, it will set back the cause of women here in Massachusetts,’ made me lean harder into the decision to run.”


The problem is that it was the assured predictions, the 85 percent chance of victory, the promises of inevitability, that landed us in this fucking mess to begin with. It will be tempting to have a million conversations over the next few years in which we stroke our chins and ask wise questions about Elizabeth Warren’s chances. Those who are used to being called upon as consultants and political gurus will wonder, like Beltway Carrie Bradshaws, whether America is ready for a female president. Experts will run the numbers, talk to focus groups, tally up the probabilities, and churn through the losses we’ve already sustained. They’ll tell us to stay safe and center, or to bank left because that’s the trend, or that Warren isn’t left enough to be on trend. They’ll argue about whether the way to win is to attack Trump or talk health care. Some will contend that turning to another woman — another older white blonde who can be portrayed as imperious and shrill — will mean doom; others will insist she’s our only hope.

But the fact is that none of us — not one of the people who’s going to try to answer this question with authority — actually knows what’s possible, what’s impossible, what’s going to happen next. Because everything is different now. We are different too.

Look, presidential elections are largely determined by structural factors. Candidate quality and tactics can certainly matter at the margin, but then we run into the problem that assessments of candidate quality are rife with tautologies and unfalsifiable assumptions. Nobody will ever know, ex ante or ex post, who the best Democratic presidential candidate in 2020 is.

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