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What Warren's Book Means for Hillary: Don't Get Too Comfortable

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Last week I flagged a passage from Elizabeth Warren’s new book that looked like the strongest evidence yet that Warren won’t run for president in 2016. It basically vouched for Hillary Clinton’s progressive bona fides, going so far as to airbrush details that would make progressives deeply suspicious of the former secretary of State.

Well, today is the book’s actual publication date, and it brings some countervailing evidence about Warren’s intentions. 

I’m referring specifically to an email promoting the book that one of Warren’s biggest backers, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), sent to its list of nearly one million members. The email includes a couple of choice excerpts from Warren’s book, most of them designed to get liberals’ blood boiling. Tellingly, it directs their anger at Barack Obama (“The president chose his team … and the president's team chose Wall Street”) and his top aides (chief among them, “Out-of-touch economic adviser Larry Summers”).

What’s going on here is a little more complicated than my previous post suggested. My sense is that Warren wants to be seen as a loyal Democrat, and therefore avoid writing or doing anything that could be directly interpreted as knee-capping the party’s presumed 2016 frontrunner, or thrusting herself forward as an alternative. But Warren is also keen to keep riling up her most loyal constituency, which after all is the source of her strength as a politician. Both of these things are perfectly reasonable goals. But they’re obviously in tension with one another, too. Given Hillary’s close relationship to the Larry Summers wing of the party, you don’t have to do much math to figure out how the liberals Warren and the PCCC are targeting could make life uncomfortable for Hillary.

The flaw in my previous post was the implicit assumption that Warren could control her base. She can’t—and, frankly, it’s hard to believe she wants to. Which means that Warren can keep saying all the right things from Hillary’s perspective for the next year or two, and Hillary still won’t be out of the woods when it comes to progressives. The ghost of Elizabeth Warren, if not the actual person, is going to keep lurking.

Noam Scheiber is a senior editor at The New Republic. Follow @noamscheiber