Who is Elizabeth Warren – and could she be the USA’s first female president?

Posted by
Emily Reynolds

Elizabeth Warren is set to launch a presidential bid – but who is she and what does she stand for?

In 2016, Hillary Clinton famously attempted to become the first female president in US history – and lost to Donald Trump

But in 2020, we could be seeing a different battle: Trump vs Elizabeth Warren.

The senator formally launched her presidential bid in Massachusetts back in February, and was the first high-profile Democrat to explicitly state her interest in running for the White House, shortly after launching an exploratory committee to raise funds for a presidential run. 

In a YouTube video announcing the launch of her exploratory committee, Warren explains that “if you work hard and play by the rules”, you should be able to “look after yourself and the people you love”: “that’s a fundamental promise of America”.

But many working families are unable to achieve their dreams, she says – particularly families of colour, whose paths are “steeper and rockier” due to generations of discrimination.

For the first time in the nation’s history, a record-breaking six women have declared their candidacies for the presidential election, and all of them are running for the Democratic nomination. They include Senators Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand and Amy Klobuchar, U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard, and spiritual leader and activist Marianne Williamson.

With the presidential election cycle now in full swing, Warren has emerged as a frontrunner for her progressive proposals around student debt relief, higher education reform, universal childcare, affordable housing and increased taxes on the ultra-rich, as well as a pledge to protect reproductive rights at a time when abortion access is increasingly under threat

But who exactly is Elizabeth Warren, what does she stand for, and how likely is she to win against Trump in 2020?

Who is Elizabeth Warren?

Warren has had what NPR describes as  “a swift rise, if not a meteoric one, to political stardom”. After working as an academic at Harvard Law School for 20 years, Warren later oversaw the Troubled Asset Relief Program – a government programme designed to strengthen the financial sector after the 2008 crash. Alongside President Barack Obama, she also helped create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. 

Starting her career as an elementary school teacher, Warren put herself through law school while bringing up her children. She later became an academic, working as a professor of law for 30 years.

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She was elected the Senator for Massachusetts in 2012, beating her Republican opponent Scott Brown with 54% of the vote. Her re-election in 2018 saw her beat her opponent by 24 points.

Warren has also written 10 books – on heavyweight subjects including bankruptcy, business and the struggling American middle class – and been named one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world four times.

She was also the inspiration for the feminist slogan “nevertheless, she persisted” – a phrase originally uttered about Warren by Senator Mitch McConnell after she objected to Jeff Sessions’ appointment to Attorney General. 

What does she stand for?

Warren is passionate about the regulation of capitalism, and describes herself as a “consumer advocate”. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which she oversaw the creation of, attempted to “hold Wall Street banks and other financial institutions accountable”, and also aimed to protect consumers from the “financial tricks and traps often hidden in mortgages, credit cards and other financial products”. 

She places much emphasis on protecting the middle class, stating that large corporations should “pay a fair share in taxes… and are held accountable for breaking the law”. 

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Socially and economically, Warren is liberal – she’s also the third most anti-Trump senator in the House, voting with him only 13.1% of the time.

In the past, she has supported abortion rights, immigration reform, same-sex marriage and a lift on the ban preventing gay and bisexual men from giving blood. She has also expressed a desire to bring in more vigorous gun control and the legalisation of marijuana

Why does Trump call Warren ‘Pocahontas’? 

Warren has largely liberal views on social and economic issues

The accusations go way back. Warren first claimed Native American heritage in 1996, when Harvard Law School had been criticised for a lack of minority women on staff.  

She was later accused of making it up – but she told NPR that her family had told her she was part Cherokee. “These are my family stories,” she said. “This is our life. And I’m very proud of it.”

What she didn’t have, however, was documentation – leading Trump to latch onto the accusations and give her the mocking ‘Pocahontas’ nickname.

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In an attempt to shut down Trump’s criticism, Warren released the results of a DNA test in October 2018. The test showed that she had at least one Native American ancestor between six and 10 generations ago.

However, Warren was later criticised by some Native American groups and others on the left for playing into Trump’s hands – and for being unwittingly insensitive to indigenous ideas about who gets to belong to a Native American tribe.  

 Apart from Trump, who else is she up against?

Beto O’Rourke, one of Warren’s likely competitors

We don’t quite know yet – Warren is the first candidate to officially launch a bid of any kind. We know that Bernie Sanders is likely to run again, and Hillary Clinton may also be considering a bid.

And there’s been lots of buzz around Beto O’Rourke, a businessman and Democratic politician who recently lost a race to the Senate to Republican Ted Cruz. O’Rourke created huge amounts of buzz online – and one poll found that, in a crowded field of Democratic presidential candidates, he’s the clear leader. Warren might have a battle on her hands. 

Can she really win the presidential election in 2020?

Warren with her husband Bruce Mann after announcing her potential presidential bid 

Again, it’s hard to say – we don’t yet know who her running mate would be, what policies she would stand on, or who else might be entering the fight.

Polls do position her favourably. She’s often considered to be Bernie Sanders’ biggest competitor, with supporters of the two often overlapping. She also raised 56% of funding from donations under $200 – suggesting that she has a wide appeal with middle and working class voters. 

But Nathaniel Rakich at FiveThirtyEight say that Warren has “long polarised audiences” – perhaps because “she’s a woman with a confrontational style”. 

“Whatever the causes, Warren isn’t in the best starting position as she enters the fray,” Rakich writes. “But she’s not in the worst position either — she’ll likely find a receptive audience for her message in terms of policy and ideology. A well-run campaign would put her among the field’s top contenders.”

For now, we have to wait – more candidates will surely join the fray soon.

Images: Getty


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Emily Reynolds

Emily Reynolds is a journalist and author based in London. Her first book, A Beginner’s Guide to Losing Your Mind, came out in February 2017 with Hodder & Stoughton. She is currently working on her second.  

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