The Democratic deep state — it is not made up of Democrats in the bureaucracies but rather those who make up the core of the party — is in agony.
Solid, middle-of-the-road, fad-proof Democrats are not happy. They are the ones most likely to have thrown their support early to Joe Biden, and who now are eyeing Elizabeth Warren with apprehension and a sense of the inevitable.
Warren exhibits all the weaknesses of someone who, at her core, is not a professional politician. She blunders into traps whether they are set for her or not. She is vulnerable to the political equivalent of fatal attraction.
Biden lurches from gaffe to gaffe and is haunted by the positions he took a long time ago. Some of his social positions turn out to be like asbestos: decades ago, seen as a cure-all building material, now lethal.
Where Biden stumbles over the issues of the past, Warren walks into the traps of today. She is one of those self-harming politicians who shoots before she takes aim.
When Donald Trump mocked her claims of Native American ancestry, Warren took the bait and ended with a hook in her gullet. A more seasoned politician would not have been goaded by a street fighter into taking a DNA test, resulting in an apology. Ignorance met incaution, and Trump won.
Warren also swallowed the impeachment bait of the left, ignoring the caution of centrists who worried about the outcome in an election year. If the Senate acquits, Trump claims exoneration.
Then there is the Medicare for All trap into which Warren not so much fell as she propelled herself. Because Bernie Sanders, who reminds me of King Lear, and his field commander Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others on the left favored it, Warren had to leap in, ill-prepared.
The prima facie logic is there, but the mechanism is not. It is easy to see that Medicare is a very popular program that works. It is also easy to see that the United States pays more than twice as much on health care as any other nation.
Those, like myself, who have experienced state systems abroad, as well a Medicare at home, know the virtues of the single-payer system with patient-chosen, private insurance on the top for private hospital rooms, elective surgery and pampering that is not basic medicine. But we also know that the switch to Medicare for All would be hugely dislocating.
Employer-paid health care is a tax on business but substituting that with a straight tax is politically challenging, structurally difficult and impossible to sell at this stage in the evolution of health care. It likely will give a new Democratic president a constitutional hernia.
Warren seems determined to embrace the one thing that makes the left and its ideas electorally vulnerable: The left wants to tell the electorate what it is going to take away.
Consider this short list of the left’s confiscations that the centrists must negotiate, not endorse: We want your guns, we want your employer-paid health care, we want your gasoline-powered car, and we want the traditional source of your electricity. Trust us, you will love these confiscations.
Those are the position traps for Warren. To make a political sale — or any sale — do not tell the customers what you are going to take away from them.
It is well known that Republicans roll their eyes in private at the mention of Trump, while supporting him in public. Democratic centrists — that place where the true soul of a party resides, where its expertise dwells, and where its most thoughtful counsel is to be heard — roll their eyes at the mention of all the leading candidates. They like Pete Buttigieg but think him unelectable. If elected, they worry that Warren would fall into the traps set for her around the world — as Trump has with Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-un.
Politics needs passion. “She is better than Trump,” is not a passionate rallying cry.