Medicare for All Isn’t Tanking Warren

It is not Medicare for All that has sunk Elizabeth Warren’s campaign — it’s Elizabeth Warren who is sinking the Medicare for All campaign.

US Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren visits Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Iowa. (Phil Roeder / Flickr)

“Democrats,” according to Sam Stein, have found “a universally agreed upon culprit for [Elizabeth Warren’s] stall in the polls: her embrace and handling of Medicare for All.” Or perhaps that’s putting it a little strong, since six paragraphs in we find out this has merely “become the topic of intense debate in Democratic circles.” But either way, we know that at least four people think Warrencare has tanked her campaign:

  • former Harry Reid staffer Adam Jentleson;
  • Biden spokesman TJ Ducklo;
  • an anonymous aide to another one of Warren’s opponents; and
  • a “senior Democratic Party member” (whatever that means)

I’m not sure why it’s news that two professional opponents of Medicare for All — along with (for all we know) your aging Blue Dog grandpa — think that it’s a political liability for Warren; but let me propose an alternative explanation.

Medicare for All was doing well in the polls until several candidates decided to use it as a brand to promote plans that are not Medicare for All. Elizabeth Warren in particular raised popular suspicions when she spent several months in uncharacteristic silence about the specifics of her plan — a point that Pete Buttigieg bludgeoned her with during the fourth debate. This made people wonder why, if Medicare for All is so great, Warren would be evasive about it. Then, Warren released a health care financing plan that seemed tailor-made to hide a tax on the middle class. This made people suspicious about how much it will cost. Then, she released a legislative plan that is plainly quite different from what was previously on the table, one that guarantees (among other things) a protracted and doomed political fight. This made people wonder if Medicare for All can deliver on its promises.

Warren did all of this under the banner of “Medicare for All,” even insisting that her plan was Bernie’s plan (when it plainly is not) — and that’s why, when you ask respondents in a poll about a single-payer system, they think that they would be getting something shady and unworkable like Warrencare.

It is not, in other words, Medicare for All that has sunk Elizabeth Warren — it’s Elizabeth Warren who is sinking Medicare for All. The public has noticed her evasiveness and triangulating and all of the controversy that has surrounded it, and this has had a negative effect on their opinions about single payer. And opponents of single payer, of course, have been more than happy to agree that yes, this policy trainwreck is exactly what Medicare for All looks like — which is why we get articles like Stein’s.