WASHINGTON — With three polls showing her in the lead, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., may soon eclipse former Vice President Joe Biden as the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. That’s great news for Republicans, because Warren has a problem: The central message of her campaign is that the economy is working for the very wealthy but it is not working for ordinary Americans. Unfortunately for her, ordinary Americans disagree.
A Marist poll asked voters whether “the economy is working well for you personally.” Nearly two-thirds of Americans said yes. This includes large majorities in almost every demographic group. Sixty-seven percent of college graduates and 64% of those without a college education say the economy is working for them. So do 68% of whites, and 61% of nonwhite people. So do Americans of every generation: 63% of Generation Z and millennials; 69% of Generation X; 63% of baby boomers; and 69% of Greatest Generation and Silent Generation voters. So do supermajorities in every region in the country: 60% in the West, 65% in the Northeast, 67% in the Midwest, and 68% in the South. So do most voters in every type of American community: 63% of both big and small city voters; 64% of small-town voters; 66% of rural voters; and 72% of suburban voters. Most everyone, it seems, says the economy is working for them.
The only groups who disagree, Marist found, are progressives (59%), Democratic women (55%) and those who are liberal or very liberal (55%). So, when Warren declares that President Donald Trump is “part of a corrupt, rigged system that has helped the wealthy and the well-connected and kicked dirt in the faces of everyone else,” it resonates with almost no one except those on the political left.
There is a good reason for that. Unemployment is near a record low, and the United States has about 1.6 million more job openings than unemployed people to fill them. Not only are jobs plentiful, but wages are rising. And The New York Times reported in May that “over the past year, low-wage workers have experienced the fastest pay increases.” Americans don’t just think they are doing better in the Trump economy, they are doing better. Little wonder Democrats barely mentioned the economy in Tuesday’s debate.
This progress is bad news for Warren. Why on earth would Americans rally to her call for “big structural change” to the economy when they say the economy is working for them? Especially when they learn the structural changes Warren is proposing would cost tens of trillions of dollars and — whether she admits it or not — would require them to pay more in taxes?
Manhattan Institute budget expert Brian Riedl recently added up the price tag for Warren’s proposals, and the numbers are staggering: $30 trillion to $40 trillion over 10 years for Medicare for All; $2 trillion for Social Security expansion; $3 trillion for climate change and environmental policies; $2 trillion free college and student loan forgiveness; and another $1 trillion for initiatives that include free child care and housing. “Total cost: $38 trillion to $48 trillion,” Riedl says. And that’s before calculating the cost of offering free government health care to illegal immigrants, which Warren supports. There’s no way to pay for that miasma of spending with Warren’s wealth tax; it will require massive middle-class tax increases.
No wonder the so-called moderates were going after Warren so hard at Tuesday’s debate; they know it would be a disaster if she were to capture the Democratic nomination. To win in 2020, Democrats need to win over voters who like Trump’s policies but don’t like Trump. They can’t do that by telling these voters they are wrong about the economy working for them, and that they need to make peace with socialism. Instead, they need to convince voters that they can dump Trump and still keep their prosperity.
If Democrats nominate Warren, they will give voters suffering from Trump exhaustion no safe harbor. Her nomination would turn the election into an existential threat to the American economy. And since Warren said Tuesday that, if she is elected, and Democrats take back the Senate, they will “repeal the filibuster,” she will be able to pass her radical agenda by simple majority vote. That means Trump’s message — “whether you love me or hate me, you have got to vote for me” — will ring true for millions of Americans whose votes might otherwise be up for grabs.
Follow Marc A. Thiessen on Twitter, @marcthiessen.