Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, once a favorite to win the Democratic presidential nomination, dropped out of the race on Thursday, setting up a two-man duel between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.
“I am suspending my campaign for president,” the 70-year-old progressive lawmaker announced following her disappointing performance in the Super Tuesday primaries.
Warren said she was not ready to endorse either of the two remaining major candidates – Biden, the 77-year-old former vice president, or Sanders, the 78-year-old leftist senator from Vermont. “We don’t have to decide that this minute,” she said. “I want to take a little time.”
President Donald Trump, on the other hand, has long since chosen his preferred opponent: Sanders, whose self-avowed socialism and honeymoon in Moscow make him seem to Trump the easier target of the two. Trump’s plan is first to go mano a mano against Biden and try to knock him out of contention, leaving only Sanders.
Trump makes no secret of the scorched earth campaign he’ll mount against Democratic frontrunner Biden — complete with questioning the former vice president’s cognitive abilities and accusing him constantly of corruption.
A veteran senator and former wingman to Barack Obama, Biden has shot into pole position ahead of fiery leftist rival Sanders with a soothing message of restoring calm and “decency” to America.
But a race against Trump will resemble a demolition derby more than a debate on decorum.
As part of his folksy plain “Joe” persona, Biden often says he’ll beat Trump “like a drum” in November.
Trump, though, has been banging his own drum for months, mocking Biden’s propensity for verbal stumbles, insinuating that the 77-year-old is senile and tarring him as corrupt.
Trump’s reaction to the Biden surge on Super Tuesday gave a taste of what’s to come.
Yes, he congratulated Biden the next day on the “incredible comeback,” but in the same breath he suggested the Democrat he calls “Sleepy Joe” is controlled by “handlers.” And all week he has publicly lampooned Biden’s gaffes, saying that if he’d made them “it would be the end of the road.”
Despite this, all the signs are that Trump fears Biden more than Sanders.
For months, Trump has been revving up a potential battle against the self-declared democratic socialist he nicknames “crazy Bernie.”
In Trump world, a showdown with Sanders, a man who visited the Soviet Union with his wife as newlyweds, praised communist Cuba and wants to reorder the entire US economy, would be the perfect gift.
Warnings of a “socialist nightmare” wind deeply through Trump’s stump speech.
At a rally last week, Trump even polled the crowd on which candidate would be better for him. The crowd shouted for Sanders.
“I think Bernie’s easier to beat,” he said.
Operation stop Biden
Biden carries the baggage of decades spent in Congress and the fact he is even older than 73-year-old Trump. He will also face internal party opposition from diehard Sanders supporters.
But as a centrist and someone still strongly associated with the popular Obama, he appears to spook the Republican president.
Last year, Trump risked everything on a wild goose chase to find proof that Biden corruptly procured his son Hunter a cushy job in Ukraine while serving as vice president.
Despite strong-arming Ukraine’s fragile government to cooperate and sending his personal lawyer on muckraking missions, Trump never found evidence that there was anything criminal going on.
For his efforts, he got himself impeached in the lower House, although the Republican-held Senate promptly voted for his acquittal.
But expect the Hunter Biden story to become central to the election if Biden becomes the Democratic nominee. Trump will make sure of it.
“That will be a major issue in the campaign. I will bring that up all the time,” Trump told Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Wednesday in an interview that more closely resembled a friendly chat between two colleagues.
“I don’t see how they can answer those questions,” Trump said. “That was purely corrupt.”
Savaging ‘Sleepy Joe’
Trump’s eventual opponent, aided most likely by the vast funds and media savvy of unsuccessful candidate Michael Bloomberg, will counter that the president is the one steeped in corruption.
Even the issue of children getting sweetheart deals would be easy to throw back: Trump is frequently accused of nepotism in making his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner senior White House advisors.
But Trump is skilled at bare knuckle politics and never more so than in exploiting the contrast between what he claims is his physical prowess and Biden’s frailty.
Rarely does a campaign rally go by without Trump ridiculing Biden’s mental sharpness and verbal miscues – which some suggest are linked to his lifelong battle against stuttering.
Trump not only reenacts Biden’s gaffes, but adds confused facial expressions and portrays aides frantically trying to get their man off the stage.
The humor is cruel and constant – and Trump’s supporters laugh.
“He was always very gaffe-prone. He was always – he was always in trouble in that way,” Trump told Hannity, with a tone of concern.
“But never like this. What’s going on now is crazy.”
All male campaign
Warren’s withdrawal leaves only one woman in the Democratic field, Tulsi Gabbard, but the Hawaii congresswoman has never been a significant factor, polling at less than one percent.
Warren said she regretted there would not be a woman in the top spot on the Democratic ticket against Republican Donald Trump in November.
“The hardest part of this is all those little girls who are going to have to wait four more years,” she said.
Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar pulled out of the race this week and two other female senators – Kamala Harris of California and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York – dropped out earlier.
Warren was asked whether being a woman had something to do with her lackluster performance at the polls.
“If you say, ‘Yeah, there was sexism in this race,’ everyone says, ‘Whiner,” she said. “And if you say, ‘No, there was no sexism,’ about a bazillion women think, ‘What planet do you live on?'”
“I promise you this, I’ll have a lot more to say on that subject,” she said.
– ‘Fiercest of fighters’ –
Biden and Sanders both praised Warren in tweets following her announcement.
“Senator @EWarren is the fiercest of fighters for middle class families,” Biden said. “Her work in Washington, in Massachusetts, and on the campaign trail has made a real difference in people’s lives.
“We needed her voice in this race, and we need her continued work in the Senate.”
Sanders said Warren “has run an extraordinary campaign of ideas – demanding that the wealthy pay their fair share, ending corruption in Washington, guaranteeing health care for all, addressing climate change, tackling the student debt crisis and vigorously protecting women’s rights.”
“Without her, the progressive movement would not be nearly as strong as it is today.”
Warren’s withdrawal came after she failed to win a single state on Super Tuesday, including her own, Massachusetts.
Her decision to quit the race came one day after that of billionaire former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who dropped out after a disappointing Super Tuesday showing of his own and endorsed fellow centrist Biden.
Trump responded to Warren’s withdrawal with a tweet mocking her and Bloomberg.
“Elizabeth ‘Pocahontas’ Warren, who was going nowhere except into Mini Mike’s head, just dropped out of the Democrat Primary … THREE DAYS TOO LATE,” Trump said.
“She cost Crazy Bernie, at least, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Texas,” the president said of three of the states at stake on Super Tuesday. “Probably cost him the nomination!”
‘A plan for that’
Warren led some national polls last summer but never managed to build a broad coalition to carry her through to success in the primaries.
She made her mark in the race on policy strengths but was quickly overshadowed on the left by Sanders, making his second bid for the nomination after losing out to Hillary Clinton in 2016.
“I was told at the beginning of this whole undertaking that there are two lanes, a progressive lane that Bernie Sanders is the incumbent for, and a moderate lane that Joe Biden is an incumbent for, and there is no room for anyone else in this,” Warren said on Thursday.
“I felt that wasn’t right, but evidently I was wrong.”
Warren, a former Harvard law professor, cut her teeth on the 2008 financial crisis, guiding president Barack Obama towards creation of a consumer protection agency.
Her experience as a number-crunching people’s advocate helped project her early image as a can-do policy wonk and she quickly became associated with the catchphrase “I have a plan for that.”
One of the most notable moments of Warren’s campaign was her debate evisceration of Bloomberg, something she alluded to on Thursday.
“In this campaign, we have been willing to fight, and, when necessary, we left plenty of blood and teeth on the floor,” she said. “And I can think of one billionaire who has been denied the chance to buy this election.”