It was just a few months before Sen. Elizabeth Warren started running for president that the pleasant fiction that she was a woman of color completely collapsed.
In October 2018, Warren released a DNA test that definitively proved she was between 1/64th and 1/1,024th Native American — something she was under the impression exonerated her from all of those Fauxcahontas claims that had haunted her political career.
This was, um, a bit of a miscalculation.
Not only has the test provided the right with a solid 16 months of memes, but liberal Native American groups and others on the left were incensed at her use of genetic testing to win a petty argument about her place in POC-dom.
An apology tour gradually attenuated the anger, but it’s never really gone away.
Whether or not this was somehow indicative of a larger problem with the Warren campaign when it comes to minority voters is a matter of opinion, but the fact is that a problem exists.
An August 2019, Pew Research Center poll found that, of the four top-tier candidates at that time, Warren had the whitest base — 71 percent, compared to 56 percent for Joe Biden and 49 percent for Bernie Sanders. (The fourth “top-tier” candidate then, California Sen. Kamala Harris, has since ended her run after a supernova cluster of bad decisions — but she was at 59 percent for whatever it’s worth.)
And yet, Warren’s made all the right noises. She’s proposed a series of executive actions that she says would boost the wages of women of color.
She’s talked about the dangers of “white nationalism,” whatever that might mean nowadays.
She’s gotten “squad” member Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who’s black, to act as a campaign surrogate to the black community. What’s not to like?
Plenty, if you’re a woman of color and working for Warren in Nevada.
Six women of color out of the 70-odd members of Warren’s campaign in the state have quit in recent months because of what they saw as a work culture where they felt marginalized, a Thursday article in Politico revealed.
“During the time I was employed with Nevada for Warren, there was definitely something wrong with the culture,” Megan Lewis, a field organizer who quit in December, said.
“I filed a complaint with HR, but the follow-up I received left me feeling as though I needed to make myself smaller or change who I was to fit into the office culture.”
“I felt like a problem — like I was there to literally bring color into the space but not the knowledge and voice that comes with it,” another field organizer, who remained anonymous, said.
“We all were routinely silenced and not given a meaningful chance on the campaign. Complaints, comments, advice, and grievances were met with an earnest shake of the head and progressive buzzwords but not much else.”
A third woman of color who had left cosigned these descriptions without going on the record herself, while the other three declined to comment for the piece.
In a reaction that felt like a time-condensed version of its response to the DNA test controversy, the Warren campaign first handled the piece with a non-apology apology, followed by a thoroughly over-the-top apology once they realized how the original reaction sounded to the base.
First, the boilerplate statement that was included in the Politico article, in which a campaign spokeswoman didn’t contradict the claims made by the women but insisted that they didn’t represent the culture on the larger campaign: “We strive for an inclusive environment and work hard to learn and improve,” Kristen Orthman said in a statement.
“We have an organization of more than a thousand people, and whenever we hear concerns, we take them seriously. It’s important that everyone who is part of our team has a voice and can be heard. That’s why we are proud that we have a unionized staff and clear processes for issues to be addressed.”
Between Thursday afternoon, when the piece was published, and Thursday night, someone probably realized how that was going to go down, and the senator herself issued a more full-throated apology after a town hall meeting in Derry, New Hampshire.
“I believe these women completely and without reservation and I apologize that they have had a bad experience on this campaign,” she told reporters, according to CNN.
“I also understand the long legacy of racism in this country and what it means and how it creates power dynamics and inequities that are toxic and dangerous. And that’s why it’s so important that we be constantly vigilant and determined to do better. I take personal responsibility for this and I’m working with my team to address these concerns.”
She also appeared on MSNBC Thursday night, where she similarly prostrated herself before the altar of intersectional regret.
“I believe these women without any equivocation and I apologize personally that they had a bad experience on the campaign,” she said. “I take responsibility for this, and I’m working with my team to address these concerns.”
The Politico article was the latest episode in the Democrats’ new sketch comedy series, “The Whitest Candidates U Know.”
It wasn’t quite as funny as the last one, in which former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who’s struggled to gain traction with black voters, appeared to corral some of his few black supporters in Iowa to stand in a line behind him during a victory speech (delivered before the vast majority of results come out) in the most obvious and hilarious attempt to make it seem as though his #CandidacySoWhite appealed to anyone outside of wine caves.
It also showed why Joe Biden — a guy who’s worked with legit segregationists on racial issues during his political career — still continues to enjoy the widest swath of African-American support in the Democratic field.
Time is the most valuable resource any Democratic candidate has at this point.
Money and favorable polling numbers can buy access to more time in the media spotlight, but there’s still only so many news cycles major networks can give you.
That’s why this is pretty much an intersectional torpedo to the Warren campaign.
In the run-up to the New Hampshire primary, the last thing her struggling candidacy needs to be talking about is how it treats its minority workers.
She’s almost certainly going to faceplant in the next two contests after New Hampshire — Nevada, where she’s cutting back resources, and South Carolina, where that lack of resonance with minority voters has continued to hurt her.
New Hampshire, therefore, is vitally important to keeping her campaign viable — but time’s running out for her in there, too.
Despite being from an adjacent state and a policy wonk in a contest where that’s generally an advantage, she’s lagging in a distant third-place tie with Joe Biden at 13 percent, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average.
Sanders and Buttigieg are sitting in first and second at 26 percent and 22.5 percent, respectively.
This, in short, is not the time to be offering endless apologies about allegations of a toxic campaign environment for women of color.
If you think she’s going to be talking about anything else during the next few days, your opinion of the situation is as wildly, inappropriately optimistic as that Warren campaign spokeswoman who thought that first “apology” she offered to Politico was really going to fly.
Just like that DNA test in October 2018, this is all Warren’s going to be asked about for quite some time. Unlike then, however, she doesn’t have 16 months before Democrats start voting to patch things up.
Now, they’ve already started casting their ballots and she’s only got a few days before a contest that could thoroughly break her campaign.
Short of a second DNA test just to make sure she wasn’t maybe, possibly 1/32nd Native American, I cannot possibly think of anything Warren needed less than this.
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