Noam Scheiber says that populist Elizabeth Warren is Hillary’s worst nightmare.
Judging from recent events, the populists are likely to win. In September, New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, running on a platform of taming inequality, routed his Democratic mayoral rival, Christine Quinn, known for her ties to Michael Bloomberg’s finance-friendly administration. The following week, Larry Summers, Obama’s first choice to succeed Ben Bernanke as Federal Reserve chairman, withdrew his name from consideration after months in which Senate Democrats signaled their annoyance with his previous support for deregulation. Not 48 hours later, Bill Daley, the former Obama chief of staff and JP Morgan executive, ended his primary campaign for governor of Illinois after internal polls showed him trailinghis populist opponent.
All of this is deeply problematic for Hillary Clinton. As a student of public opinion, she clearly understands the direction her party is headed. As the head of an enterprise known as Clinton Inc. that requires vast sums of capital to function, she also realizes there are limits to how much she can alienate the lords of finance. For that matter, it’s not even clear Clinton would want to. “Many of her best friends, her intellectual brain trust [on economics], all come out of that world,” says a longtime Democratic operative who worked on Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign and then for Hillary in the White House. “She doesn’t have a problem on the fighting-for-working-class-folks side”—protecting Medicare and Social Security—“but it will be hard, really wrenching for her to be that populist on [finance] issues.”
Which brings us to the probable face of the insurgency. In addition to being strongly identified with the party’s populist wing, any candidate who challenged Clinton would need several key assets. The candidate would almost certainly have to be a woman, given Democrats’ desire to make history again. She would have to amass huge piles of money with relatively little effort. Above all, she would have to awaken in Democratic voters an almost evangelical passion. As it happens, there is precisely such a person. Her name is Elizabeth Warren.