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Elizabeth Warren isn’t finished. Her ideas won’t go away, and neither will she.



What happened? Yes, sexism certainly happened. But so did health care and Warren’s mishandling of the issue. Both undercut what had been a promising and often inspiring campaign rooted in problem-solving and reform.

The sexism that mattered was as much indirect as direct, of the “Well, I would vote for a woman but . . .” variety. All along, there was an undercurrent of worry among many Democrats that President Trump would weaponize sexism against Warren, just as he had against Hillary Clinton. Some also fretted that Warren’s Harvard/Cambridge side would loom far larger to voters than the Oklahoma roots she invoked regularly and eloquently.

Even when she soared to the lead nationally, a mid-October Quinnipiac survey revealed a clear gender gap. At that point, Warren stood at 30 percent to 27 percent for former vice president Joe Biden, 11 percent for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and 8 percent for Pete Buttigieg. But while Warren was winning 33 percent of women, she was taking just 24 percent of men, behind Biden’s 31 percent.

Warren couldn’t hold on to her lead. The big intervening event was an Oct. 15 debate in which Warren was pummeled by, among others, Biden, Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) for failing to explain how she would pay for the Medicare-for-all plan she had joined Sanders in supporting. It was an issue Sanders dodged by acknowledging he’d raise taxes on the middle class but without offering many specifics. Warren’s supporters have asked ever since if there was also sexism in Sanders’s relative immunity from scrutiny on his numbers.

But as the “I have a plan for that” candidate, Warren felt obliged to respond by laying out her proposal’s costs and savings in great detail. This only brought further challenge, so she tried to tamp down the controversy by announcing that she would not move to pass a single-payer health plan until the third year of her term. The upshot is that she alienated people left and right.

By Thanksgiving, the bottom had fallen out. Quinnipiac had Biden back in the lead at 24 percent in late November, with Buttigieg surging to 16 percent, Warren crashing to 14 percent and Sanders at 13 percent. The extent of the damage to Warren is underscored by the fact that her share among women was cut in half, to 16 percent. Her support among very liberal Democrats fell from 50 percent to 33 percent, and among the “somewhat liberal,” the party’s center of gravity, from 34 percent to 17 percent.

She tried to come back as the unity candidate, standing between Sanders and Biden, but she could never undo the damage done by a policy that, in truth, was never a key weapon in her arsenal.

Yet it would be a shame if Warren’s failure obscured what her candidacy actually achieved. When she was riding high, her popularity reflected something important: a widespread appreciation for her as a solutionist. She was willing to build a candidacy on detailed initiatives aimed at solving problems voters care about.

Her political reform proposals were state-of-the-art and dovetailed well with H.R. 1, the big voting rights and campaign finance bill passed by the Democratic House. Her plan for universal access to child care was practical and answered an enormous need. Her bill of rights for gig economy workers spoke to radical changes in the nature of employment. Her emphasis on the dangers of monopoly and the need for new approaches to antitrust were part of a much larger trend toward challenging economic concentration.

And while her wealth tax aroused controversy, it changed the direction of the tax debate. In one form or another, higher levies on the very wealthy will now be part of any debate over how to raise government revenue that will be needed to pay for new programs and narrow Trump’s deficits.

Yes, sexism hurt Warren, and so did her own mistakes. She proffered “big structural change” to a party that mostly just wants to beat an abominable incumbent. But her agenda is not going away. And neither is she.

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