Talk Softly, Swing A Big Tweet: Elizabeth Warren’s Unconventional Messaging

By Ailsa Chang
Sen. Elizabeth Warren at a news conference earlier this year urging Senate Republicans to confirm President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee. Getty Images

One of the most talked about politicians this election year is a woman who is not even on the ballot — Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. As her name is being thrown around as a possible VP pick for Hillary Clinton, there’s an argument to be made that Warren doesn’t even need the job. Plenty of her colleagues say she already exerts enormous influence from her perch in the Senate.

Warren may not be running for president, but right now there’s probably no one in the Democratic Party who takes more delight in publicly ripping into Donald Trump. And Trump has ripped right back into her, calling her “Pocahontas” and saying she’s an ineffective senator with a “big mouth.”

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At a gala for the Center for Popular Democracy this week, she summed up the billionaire with words that instantly went viral: “A small, insecure money grubber who doesn’t care who gets hurts so long as he makes a profit.”

Warren hammered Trump for saying in 2007 that he was excited for the housing market to collapse so he could make a lot of money.

“What kind of man does that?” Warren exclaimed. “What kind of man roots for people to get thrown out of their house? What kind of man roots for people to get thrown out of their jobs? To root for people to lose their pensions? … It is a man that cares about no one but himself.”

If it sounds like it’s getting personal, check out Warren’s Twitter feed — where she’s already called Trump a sexist, racist, xenophobic “bully.”

All this has clearly gotten under Trump’s skin — he couldn’t resist hitting back in Anaheim on Wednesday.

“I call her goofy. She is … goofy,” Trump said. “She gets less done than anybody in the United States Senate. She gets nothing done, nothing passed. She’s got a big mouth, and that’s about it. But they use her because Hillary’s trying to be very presidential.”

An Outspoken Messenger Who ‘Doesn’t Talk Very Much’

Warren has become one of the most aggressive anti-Trump voices in her party. But inside the Senate hallways, she doesn’t behave like a woman who wants to be heard.

She’s famous for avoiding reporters in the Capitol. She dashes through the building avoiding eye contact with them. Most of the Capitol Hill reporters have fallen in line and don’t even try asking her questions in the hallways anymore. The ones who do dare venture up to her often find a Warren aide suddenly wedging in and explaining that the senator isn’t available to talk at the moment.

Because Warren is a woman who holds the press at arm’s length, it might have seemed a touch ironic when Democratic Leader Harry Reid chose her to be the messenger for the progressive wing of the party. Warren stepped into that leadership position barely two years into her first term.

Reid said Warren is simply strategic about when to speak.

“She’s an effective messenger because, No. 1, she doesn’t talk very much,” said Reid. “I find — maybe I’m being judgmental — but I think when people talk too much, their message is lost. She doesn’t talk very much. But when she talks, people listen.”

Launching Causes

Reid says even during internal caucus meetings, Warren is very quiet. She speaks up with her colleagues only in deliberate moments.

“People think she’s a big talker. She isn’t,” said Reid. “In our caucus, I have some people who raise their hands all the time. They want to be recognized. But not Elizabeth.”

And her supporters say that strategic use of her influence has made her a powerful validator in the caucus — someone who can breathe new life into a cause simply by jumping on, whether it’s Wall Street reform, expanding Social Security or reducing student debt.

Senate Democratic leaders say Warren took a lead role on the issue of student debt especially.

“She can take an issue and launch it into the stratosphere,” said Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, who crafted a student loan bill with her. “You can be working on it and it can be important and you can be right. But when Elizabeth comes to the table, you know it’s about to be ready for takeoff.”

Influence As A Fundraiser

She doesn’t just launch issues. Democrats say she can also launch candidates. Warren is one of the top fundraisers in her caucus. During the 2014 midterms, she raked in more than $6 million for Democratic Senate, House and gubernatorial candidates and party committees.

This election cycle, Warren’s Leadership PAC has given away about a quarter-million dollars; her office says that amount represents just a small portion of her overall fundraising efforts so far, which include fundraising events, campaign appearances and — most important — emails.

Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said unlike many senators, Warren can instantly activate a vast national network every time she hits send on an email.

“It doesn’t take much of her time to send out an email that raises $25,000 each for three U.S. Senate candidates, something that would take those candidates weeks to do,” said Green.

Democrats say they have a shot at taking back control of the Senate this year, and their candidates hope Warren’s light will make them shine. They invoke her name in emails, want her on the campaign trail and run ads featuring her singing their praises.

There’s no question, Warren has emerged as one of 2016’s biggest influencers. And now she is perceived as the person who can best unify Clinton’s supporters with those of Bernie Sanders.

But there’s one big question she never quite answers. What is Elizabeth Warren’s endgame?

“I think her main goal is to be a good senator from Massachusetts. I don’t think she has aspirations beyond that,” Reid said.

I wonder what Elizabeth Warren would say to that — if she ever talked to me.