Elizabeth Warren Drops Out of 2020 Race : Politics Podcast : The NPR Politics Podcast Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren ended her bid for the presidency on Thursday, marking the end of a campaign that once rocketed Warren to front runner-status. In her exit speech, Warren acknowledged "all those little girls who are gonna have to wait four more years" for a woman to have a shot at the presidency.

Her exit raises questions about why, with a historic number of women running for president, the only seemingly viable candidates remaining are white men.

This episode: White House correspondent Tamara Keith, political reporter Danielle Kurtzleben, and national political correspondent Mara Liasson.
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Elizabeth Warren Ends Her Campaign, Talks About Support from 'All Those Little Girls'

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Elizabeth Warren Ends Her Campaign, Talks About Support from 'All Those Little Girls'

Elizabeth Warren Ends Her Campaign, Talks About Support from 'All Those Little Girls'

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/812662060/812670610" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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JILL: Hi. My name is Jill (ph), from Fayetteville, N.C., and I just got the news that I'm cancer-free.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Wow.

TAMARA KEITH, HOST:

Whoo.

JILL: This podcast was recorded at...

KEITH: 3:07 p.m. on Thursday, the 5 of March.

JILL: Things probably changed by the time you hear it, but I will still be celebrating. OK, here's the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

KEITH: Wow. I have chills.

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: Whoo.

KEITH: Congratulations.

KURTZLEBEN: Congrats.

LIASSON: Really good.

KURTZLEBEN: Whoo. Good for you.

KEITH: Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

KURTZLEBEN: I'm Danielle Kurtzleben. I cover the presidential campaign.

LIASSON: And I'm Mara Liasson, national political correspondent.

KEITH: And today, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren dropped out of the race for president.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ELIZABETH WARREN: So I announced this morning that I am suspending my campaign for president. I say this with a deep sense of gratitude for every single person who got in this fight, every single person who tried on a new idea, every single person who just moved a little in their notion of what a president of the United States should look like.

KEITH: She was holding a press conference outside of her house and to say bye, bye, bye to Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, I propose that we use her walk-on song...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "9 TO 5")

DOLLY PARTON: (Singing) Working 9 to 5, what a way to make a living. Barely...

KEITH: ...Which I think we all agree was the most fitting walkout song for any of the presidential candidates who ran over the past year and a half.

KURTZLEBEN: I was actually thinking about the song today. And, like, it is a song about a woman feeling underappreciated, and I wonder if Warren is feeling that today right now.

LIASSON: Unappreciated, but also that movie was a really big, important movie, and Elizabeth Warren's campaign was a big, important campaign. And yes, that's an anthem for women who work hard and are unappreciated, but that movie left an indelible stamp on our culture, and I predict Warren's campaign will leave an indelible stamp on our politics, too.

KEITH: So I think that the sort of calling card of her campaign, Danielle - and you've been covering her campaign for the duration and especially in these last few weeks - the calling card was she was the woman with a plan.

KURTZLEBEN: Yes, most definitely. I mean, even in the last few days of her campaign, she was announcing new plans - one about farm workers, another about combating coronavirus. I mean, she was still announcing them. And, you know, listen - of course, the plans were about being plants, right? The whole point of having plans was, yeah, in part, to say, listen - here are things I would like to do, which is why any presidential candidate does that. But it was also very much a brand.

And when you talk to her voters, they liked some of what was in the plans, sure, but they very much just liked that the plans existed. She seemed to be making that her electability pitch. Like, look at this guy in the White House. He's not prepared; I'm super prepared. Don't you want the opposite of that? And a lot of Democrats do.

KEITH: Yeah. And, you know, the other thing about how Warren was, as a campaigner, is that, yes, she had these plans, but she didn't do laundry lists. The way she talked on the campaign trail, she was always telling a story. Everything had a narrative to go with it, either a story about herself or a story about someone else who she had met.

KURTZLEBEN: One of the stories that really seemed to get the crowd into it was a story about the dress, which was about when Elizabeth Warren's father lost his job, her mom had to go out for a job interview, and she pulled out the dress she only wore for graduations, weddings and funerals - I could recite this word for word at this point...

(LAUGHTER)

KURTZLEBEN: ...To go get a job, to go to a job interview.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WARREN: And she looks at me, never says a word, wipes her face, pulls that dress on, puts on her high heels and walks to the Sears and gets a full-time minimum-wage job answering phones. That minimum-wage job saved our house. And, more importantly, it saved our family.

(APPLAUSE)

KURTZLEBEN: It's those sort of stories, you know - the thing - the sort of fundamental contradiction at the center of Elizabeth Warren's campaign is, yes, her brand was plans, but also on the stump, she didn't get deeply into the plans. She said she had them, and then she told these intensely personal stories.

LIASSON: She seemed to have it all. But her strength turned out to be her weakness.

KEITH: So in the summer, the conventional wisdom - the other campaigns thought Elizabeth Warren could well be the Democratic nominee, that she was on the path. And then she got knocked off that path in part by former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who had this incredible attack on her in one of the debates.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PETE BUTTIGIEG: Your signature, Senator, is to have a plan for everything, except this - no plan has been laid out to explain how a multitrillion dollar hole in this Medicare for All plan that Senator Warren is putting forward is supposed to get filled in.

LIASSON: So he started poking at her brand. Her brand was I have a plan. And he said, hey, why don't you have a plan for health care? All you've said so far is, I'm with Bernie. Well, Elizabeth Warren, whose theory of the case turned out to be wrong - she thought she had to cleave to Bernie Sanders in every way - decided that she would make Bernie Sanders' plan add up on paper. She was going to come up with a plan to pay for his plan. He didn't feel the need to do that - Sanders didn't.

So she came up with a plan to pay for mandatory Medicare for All, a single-payer system, without taxing the middle-class, which meant she had to tax everything else that moved. And when people looked at the details, which Sanders had never put out in very stark relief...

KEITH: Correct.

LIASSON: ...They said, oh, you mean no more private health insurance? And this is what it's going to cost? And then she - her poll numbers started to drop.

KURTZLEBEN: One other problem that Elizabeth Warren had that we should mention here is that, you know, yes, she was always on this bubble of having enough support to fill these big rallies and get lots of cheers and, you know, have people stanning for her on social media, but, you know, she never was able to get a whole lot bigger. And a part of that, a big part of that, was in part that she couldn't - she never put together a very diverse coalition of people. She did very well among college-educated whites. But especially in picking up black voters, Latino voters, she never really got there, and that was also a big hurdle that her campaign faced.

KEITH: So I think for a lot of people sort of watching the race from the outside, it seemed like Elizabeth Warren was allied with Bernie Sanders. She was in the Bernie Sanders lane. But to hear her talk about it now, it seems like she was actually trying to thread the difference. Like, she was trying to be not a Biden and not a Sanders but somewhere in between.

KURTZLEBEN: Yes.

KEITH: And she had a hard time finding a market for that in the end.

KURTZLEBEN: Sure. Because a lot of her policies were - or at least her bigger policies were like Sanders' but maybe a step inward and even her brand was like Sanders' but a step inward because he's a socialist; she would say, nope, nope, nope, I am a capitalist to my bones. And then, you know, student debt relief - well, I would forgive student debt, but not quite for everybody. And, you know - or Medicare for All, she had a plan that would have delayed it, and he did not. So I mean, a lot like Bernie Sanders but a little bit further in. So yes, very much position yourself there.

LIASSON: So - yeah, so voters who wanted a real progressive left-wing candidate, they went to the OG, the original guy, Bernie Sanders.

(LAUGHTER)

LIASSON: And people who were college-educated liberals who kind of liked the Elizabeth Warren, I have a plan, they said, hm, when they saw that plan; maybe I'll stick with Pete Buttigieg. And she found herself in no man's land. She wanted to be a bridge between the left and the center, and she found herself, you know, with no net at all.

KEITH: Before we head to the break, I want to play one more clip from that press conference she held today, where she seemed to be addressing her place in history or this moment in history.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WARREN: I know. One of the hardest parts of this is all those little girls who are going to have to wait four more years. That's going to be hard.

(CROSSTALK)

KEITH: All right, we are going to take a quick break. And when we get back, we're going to take some time to reflect on the role of women in this presidential race.

And we're back. And as part of that press conference that Elizabeth Warren held, she was asked about the role of gender in this campaign.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WARREN: Gender in this race - you know, that is the trap question for every woman. If you say, yeah, there was sexism in this race, everyone says whiner; and if you say, no, there was no sexism, about a bazillion women think, what planet do you live on?

KEITH: So this race started out with a historic number of women running for the nomination, you know. You go from 2016 with Hillary Clinton failing to break that highest, hardest glass ceiling to a ton of women in Congress saying, you know what - I'm going to run. So - and we should say that Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is still running, but she only has a couple of delegates, and she doesn't really have a path to winning. But so you had all of these women - Senators Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand - all of them ran. All of them ran as proud women. But it didn't stick.

KURTZLEBEN: Right. And I mean, there are a gajillion (ph) reasons, just innumerable reasons, why that might be, and we can't get into all of them because we have limited time on this podcast. So let's start with the concrete one that we all know, and it is electability because we had voters on the trail, from a long time ago to recently, telling us that electability was hurting their chances of voting for a woman. Here is a woman who was in line to vote. She is a UCLA student named Brooke Rosenberg. Here's what she said about her choice to vote.

BROOKE ROSENBERG: Well, I really like Elizabeth Warren, but I just don't think a woman is going to win this election, unfortunately. Also, I don't want Trump to, like, tear her down.

KURTZLEBEN: She went on to say that, yeah, Warren was her first choice. And so you had many voters feeling this way. Here is a very telling poll result, by the way - from June 2019, but there's no reason to think has changed much - 76% percent of Democrats and independents said they were comfortable with a woman president. To be honest, I'm surprised that's not higher, but whatever. Thirty-three percent said their neighbors were.

Now, you can read that one of two ways. One, I'm not sexist, but my neighbors are, and I'm scared; or two, I'm telling you what I really think, but I'm afraid to say it myself. And we're going to have a whole lot of time to dig into that - years, you know.

LIASSON: Yeah. And in an election where electability is the most important criteria, what you personally think and what you think other voters might think are really one and the same thing.

KURTZLEBEN: The way I tend to think of this is this - as our, like, person who is paid to think about gender all the time; all right, here we go. It's that, like, you don't run across voters who tell you, yeah, I couldn't vote for a woman. Overwhelmingly, in polls, most voters will tell you, yeah, I will vote for a woman. But the thing is, that is a theoretical woman.

As far as what that woman looks like, who she is, how she should act, we don't know what that woman is yet. Men have defined the presidency; we're still looking for what that lady looks like. And there are all sorts of studies that talk about exactly what kind of a woman people want to vote for and don't vote for that we can't get into here.

KEITH: And Danielle, I think you did a story about this at some point. But if electability is the North Star for voters this cycle, then that necessarily disadvantages the female candidates because no one has ever seen a woman elected president before.

KURTZLEBEN: That's true. And, you know, you have - I did have one pollster tell me at one point, you know, there is some reason to think that voters think about voting for women for Congress differently from voting for women for president, that for some reason, there's a mental hurdle they can't get over. But I want to point out one more thing as long as we're talking about electability, like, who can win. I mean, as far as on that congressional level, I double-checked before we came in the studio, those women you mentioned at the top of the segment - Warren, Harris, Gillibrand, Klobuchar - none of them have ever lost.

KEITH: (Laughter).

KURTZLEBEN: There is so much to unpack there as far as, you know, whether that means you have to do everything backwards and in high heels, as the saying goes, if you have to be super perfect to run with the boys - there's all sorts of stuff. But at the very least - and this is going to be cold comfort to the listeners that really, really want a woman president - this year, we saw a wave of women candidates who were competitive, who were taken seriously. It sucks that that is the bar for progress, but that is progress.

LIASSON: And before Hillary Clinton, the conventional wisdom about women was a woman is going to become president after she is first the vice president. And...

KEITH: Which leads to another question.

LIASSON: Yes. What I think - I haven't heard - talked to a single Democrat who will push back against the idea that there will be a woman on the ticket, whoever is the nominee, and most likely that person will be a woman of color.

KEITH: All right. Well, that is a wrap for today. We will know in the future whether you're right. We will be back tomorrow with our Weekly Roundup. Until then, subscribe to our newsletter. It's the weekly wrap of our best online analysis. Just head over to npr.org/politicsnewsletter to sign up. I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

KURTZLEBEN: I'm Danielle Kurtzleben. I cover the presidential campaign.

LIASSON: And I'm Mara Liasson, national political correspondent.

KEITH: And thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

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