How Elizabeth Warren Will Change The 2016 Race — By Staying Out Of It

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We have a word for candidates who run in political elections but come in second or third — "also-ran." Also-rans aren't usually celebrated for coming a hair’s breadth from a power political office, but rather, they tend to be the butt of jokes. (Or perhaps they become television pundits, which is basically the same thing.)

But “never-rans"? That’s a category that hasn’t really existed — until now. Elizabeth Warren, a liberal Senator from Massachusetts, is forging a new model for how to influence an entire presidential election. She's doing it by not actually entering the race.

This week, the “Run Warren Run” campaign — a group that's been trying to get Sen. Warren to challenge Hillary Clinton for the 2016 presidency — announced that it’s suspending its activities. Yet "Run Warren Run" is still declaring victory in the impact Warren has had and will unarguably continue to have on the 2016 campaign.

Even the smallest of political campaigns can turn any person into a pariah. (See Rick Perry, who went from popular Texas governor to laughingstock over one lil' campaign "oops.") Presidential elections chew up idealists and icons and churn out little but ire. If Warren ran, she'd have the target on her own back — not merely free to lob attacks but also obligated to defend those lobbed against her. Her armor would dent. Candidate Warren would inevitably be flawed.

Senator Warren is forging a new model for how to influence an entire presidential election: not running.

But, “never-ran” Warren is fiery and fierce. She made her name nationally through her dogged and fearless attacks on big banks and financial institutions. Outside of the presidential campaign, the Senator can keep that role — the symbolic embodiment of economic populism — and continue to target the financial elite who perpetuate dangerous and abusive inequality. From her pulpit as America’s most popular populist, Warren can hold candidates from both parties accountable.

As a "never-ran," Warren can speak about the issues she cares about, without worrying about how she's polling against her opponents. Just recently, she spoke out against the President on his big trade bill, and questioned Hillary’s coziness with Wall Street. That’s not to suggest that Warren, like any politician, ignores polling. But, intensity and impact of such calculations is ratcheted up when you're actually running for office. If Warren isn’t a presidential candidate, she can be a conscience for all those who are.

Warren can also focus on the Republican coterie — by keeping issues in the debate so they'll have to address them. At a time when our economy is recovering and corporate profits and elite incomes are growing faster than ever, wages for ordinary Americans are stagnant or declining. This is a real crisis that transcends political parties, and yet the simple fact is that only one party, the Democrats, is really talking about it.

If Warren isn’t a presidential candidate, she can be a conscience for those all those are.

Ordinary conservative voters are concerned about inequality, especially when it comes to their own bank balances and their children’s futures. (Remember, the Tea Party originally rose up in response to government bailouts of big banks, a populist grumbling if ever there was one.) But, mainstream Republican candidates for president aren’t likely to talk about inequality and economic populism. They need pressure, and as a “never ran,” Elizabeth Warren can provide it. As long as she's out there speaking loudly about inequality, the issue will stay in the national debate — and any serious candidate will be forced to comment.

When Warren said she wasn't running, she meant it. (Unlike just about everyone else, for whom saying "I'll never run" is virtually the same as declaring.) Rather, the “Run Warren Run” campaign reflected a true grassroots groundswell of progressive and independent voters inspired by Warren’s populist ideals and tenacity.

In a political system that feels increasingly theatrical — an uneventful show paid for and put on to preserve the power of the monied elites — Elizabeth Warren feels like a breath of fresh air, a fed-up and fired-up truth-teller who seems to be channeling the hearts and minds of average voters from across the political spectrum. As such, Warren is almost too good for politics — and definitely too good for the race for president. That's why we're so looking forward to her not running.

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