There’s an odd binary mindset these days about the Democrats in 2016. Either the party will stick with their current frontrunner and standard bearer Hillary Clinton, or the base will rebel and promote the more progressive, “edgier” Elizabeth Warren as the nominee.
A parent with more than one child can love each of their children equally; differently, yes, but equally nonetheless. So, why is it impossible to believe that Democrats can like both women but not feel the need to choose one over the other for the nomination?
Despite all the talk about a “yearning” for a more liberal candidate from the Democratic base, we see no evidence – at least at this point – that liberals are unhappy with Hillary Clinton. She scored an 88 percent favorable rating among “solid liberals” in Pew’s Typology Poll. Compare that to some of the leading GOP candidates like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, none of whom crack 65 percent favorable ratings from “steadfast conservatives.” On Election Day, the national House exit poll found most Democrats supportive of a Hillary Clinton presidency, with just 14 percent of them saying they thought she would not make a good president. Meanwhile, a whopping 45 percent of Republicans thought Chris Christie wouldn’t be a good president.
Earlier this fall, the Des Moines Register poll found Hillary Clinton’s favorable ratings among Democrats at 76 percent, and she was leading all potential Democrats – including the lesser-known Warren – by 43 points. Combining her support as both a first and second choice pick on the caucus ballot, Clinton garnered a whopping 68 percent of the vote of Iowa Democrats. Back in 2006, the Des Moines Register poll showed the then-frontrunner trailing John Edwards by 14 points and grabbing an anemic 12 percent of the vote.
At the same time, it’s also clear that many liberal Democrats love Elizabeth Warren. She’s energetic and articulate and doesn’t apologize for her progressivism. As the New Yorker wrote of her recently, “After six years of watching their President being kicked around by the Republicans—and, sometimes, seeming reluctant to fight them on their own level—liberals and progressives are thrilled to have someone who dishes it right back.” It’s also clear that Warren remains relatively unknown to many Democrats. In that Des Moines Register poll from this fall, almost half of Democrats (45 percent) said they hadn’t heard of her. So, it’s certainly possible that the more Democrats get to know Warren, the more they like her and the less they like Clinton.
However, while the two women have significantly different styles, there are few serious substantive differences between them. The most cited rift is Clinton’s flip-flop on a bankruptcy bill that Warren, as a then-Harvard professor, had supported.
Attacking Clinton as too cozy with Wall Street and part of the “old guard” could be effective at a time when Democrats are less sympathetic to corporate America than they were 20 years ago. Back in 1994, according to Pew's Political Polarization survey, 35 percent of Democrats said that most corporations make a "fair and reasonable profit." Today, just 27 percent of Democrats believe this--an eight-point drop. Also, back in 1994, 46 percent of Democrats thought that "government regulation of business usually does more harm than good." Today, less than one-third (30%) believe that. However, Warren has shown a serious reticence in launching that line of attack against the former Secretary of State, and there’s not been any evidence – at least at this point – that it would work in undermining Clinton’s standing.
Bottom line: Hillary Clinton may ultimately be vulnerable to attack from the left, but as of now there’s no empirical evidence of that vulnerability. Moreover, all the data out there shows a woman who is far better positioned to take the nomination than she was in 2007. So, unless or until those data change, it’s just sloppy to argue that Clinton has a problem on her left flank.