"We have all heard about this order President Trump has given," Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts shouted.
We have all heard about this order President Trump has given, the crowd replied.
"It is illegal."
It is illegal!
"It is unconstitutional."
It is unconstitutional!
"And it will be overturned!"
It was January 28th, a day after President Donald Trump had signed his executive order temporarily banning entry into the U.S. for refugees and citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries. Thousands of people flocked to airports nationwide to protest the order. Warren arrived at Boston's Logan airport on the evening of the 28th to be with the protesters, and she finished her remarks by vowing to "fight shoulder to shoulder" with those in the crowd.
If the the anti-Trump resistance movement in the Democratic Party has a face, it is Warren's. For the April issue of Boston magazine, I wrote about Warren's role as the leader of the opposition and the tightrope she must now walk as she runs for reelection in Massachusetts, a state where Warren's support is not as enthusiastic as you might think.
Why Is Elizabeth Warren So Hard to Love?
With her populist proposals and fierce criticism of President Donald Trump, Senator Elizabeth Warren has become the new face of the Democratic Party and a favorite for the 2020 presidential race. So why are so many Massachusetts voters souring on her?
Boston Magazine | April 2017
IT'S A LATE afternoon in February, and Senator Elizabeth Warren is talking about Donald Trump and what she calls “the Twitter business.” Surely you’ve seen her tweets. For much of last year’s presidential race, she went blow for blow, tweet for tweet with the Republican nominee. After Trump complained that the polls were rigged against him, Warren fired back: “You’re not losing because it’s rigged. You’re losing because we see through your creepy bullying.” After Trump denigrated a former Miss Universe in a series of early-morning tweets, Warren replied, “Is this what keeps you up at night, @realDonaldTrump? Thinking of new & interesting ways to call women fat or ugly or sluts?”
At first, the idea of shaming a presidential candidate in 140-character bursts struck her as “pretty lame,” she tells me, sitting in her third-floor office in Washington. “But it was his tool of choice, and I believed he needed to be bloodied with his own tool.”
Now that Trump is president, Warren, more than any other Democrat, has taken up the mantle of antagonist in chief. Her schedule is so packed that I’m told she’ll be able to meet with me at some point during a two-day span and that I’ll get a 10-minute warning before having to drop everything and hustle over to her office. When we do finally talk, the news has just broken that Andrew Puzder, the fast-food executive who was Trump’s pick for labor secretary, has withdrawn his nomination. Senate Democrats, led by Warren, had barraged Puzder with criticism over his company’s questionable labor practices and old allegations (since withdrawn) made by Puzder’s ex-wife that he’d hit her. Puzder’s exit is the first big win for Democrats. Warren looks gleeful at the news, beaming from ear to ear.
Here’s the thing about interviewing Elizabeth Warren: It isn’t so much a conversation as a stump speech to an audience of one. (Two, if you count the spokeswoman who is sitting in on our conversation.) She swats and jabs at the air, talking about “what we fight for every single day” and “what defined America was the idea of opportunity.” I’m reminded of what a friend of hers told me: “The public persona is the private persona. There is no other person.” When I ask Warren about Trump’s first few months on the job, she leans back in her chair, awed by the chaos so far. “They can’t run the White House right now, and they can’t run the country. However,” she says, “that does not mean they can’t do a lot of damage.”
Warren has had a busy few months of her own. She’s a fixture at protests against Trump—railing against the president’s travel ban at Logan airport and speaking out in favor of the Affordable Care Act at Faneuil Hall. On Capitol Hill, Senate Republicans refused to include her witnesses at confirmation hearings, so Warren held shadow hearings during which working men and women offered testimonies critical of Trump’s appointees. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to silence her on the Senate floor during the debate over Senator Jeff Sessions’s nomination to be attorney general—and Warren’s refusal to be silenced—became a headline-grabbing controversy that her allies cheered as a bold act of resistance and her enemies dismissed as shameless grandstanding. Nearly 13 million people have watched the video of Warren reading Coretta Scott King’s letter outside the Senate chamber. McConnell’s admonishment of Warren became a full-blown meme—the Warren campaign is selling “Nevertheless, She Persisted” T-shirts and women have been lining up to get “Nevertheless, She Persisted” tattoos.
All of this, every battle cry and tweet, has elevated Warren to de facto leader of the anti-Trump resistance. If you’re a true believer, a liberal who has felt cheated every day since November 8, she is the antidote to your despair. And for a hobbled Democratic Party in need of an answer to Trump and Trumpism, Warren is seen by many as a potential torchbearer, someone who can reach voters in Dayton, Ohio, and Macomb County, Michigan. Her life story seems ready-made for the Rust Belt campaign trail. She sounded the alarm about the vanishing middle class long before it was fashionable, championing the cause of those squeezed out by globalization back when Trump was still a registered Democrat. In the early betting for 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, Warren is the frontrunner.
But first there is the matter of her reelection. After four years in the liberal vanguard, Warren is possibly the most deeply polarizing figure in the state. Massachusetts is often depicted as a left-wing mecca, but we’re also the state that rocketed Mitt Romney to political prominence and now has a Republican governor with a 59 percent approval rating. Despite our liberal reputation, our dirty little secret is that once you leave the coast, the state’s political sensibility is closer to that of western Pennsylvania than Brookline. So as much as Massachusetts Democrats adore Warren’s brand of fiery populism, to a certain type of independent voter—let alone a conservative—her rhetoric can seem just as over the top, vitriolic, and off-putting as Trump’s.