Is Elizabeth Warren running for president? Maybe!
In the past, when asked if she's running for president, Warren has been pretty clear: "I am not running for president," she said in June of 2014. "Do you want to put an exclamation point at the end of that?"
But in a recent interview with People, Warren was rather less emphatic. "I don't think so," she replied, before saying: "If there's any lesson I've learned in the last five years, it's don't be so sure about what lies ahead. There are amazing doors that could open."
Warren's office, of course, insists "nothing has changed."
The truth is that at this point, Elizabeth Warren has no idea whether she'll run for president. The election is too far away, and too much could change, and she doesn't need to make a decision yet.
The more interesting question is the one she's probably asking herself: should Elizabeth Warren run for president? Luckily, the answer to that is easy, and obvious: of course she should. There are six reasons why.
1) She can
In 2012, 416 people registered as presidential candidates with the Federal Election Commission. But you probably haven't heard of most of them. Being taken seriously as a presidential candidate requires a rare mixture of money, supporters, staff, volunteers, poll numbers, luck, elite credibility and more. Warren has it.
There are already Draft Warren campaigns popping up around the country. There are already willing donors. There's intense media interest. She would instantly be taken seriously as a presidential candidate. She would be in every debate. She would have press at every campaign stop. She would have volunteers in every state. Not many people get that opportunity. Warren should take her shot.
2) She has something to gain
The best argument against Elizabeth Warren running for president is that she'll almost certainly lose — at least as long as Hillary Clinton is also running. I agree with that. It's just not a very good argument against Warren running for president.
There are a lot of reasons to run for president. One of them, of course, is that you just may win. But with the exception of the presidency itself, there's no better platform for forcing your ideas to the top of the political agenda. This is true even if you lose.
One of the ways that front-runners squash challengers is by co-opting their best ideas. Mitt Romney scrapped a perfectly sensible tax plan and replaced it with something much more mathematically inventive after Herman Cain got traction with his 9-9-9 pitch. Barack Obama brought out a serious health-reform bill and promised to make it a top priority in his first term after John Edwards and Hillary Clinton forced it to the front of the Democratic agenda.
But once the idea is co-opted, it becomes a campaign promise — and presidential candidates hew much closer to their campaign promises than most people realize. There's a good argument that Obamacare only happened because Edwardscare was a threat during the Democratic primaries.
3) She has something to say
Elizabeth Warren is an unusual politician: she ended up in politics because she had big ideas that people really liked. That's a departure from most politicians, who basically don't have any original ideas at all, and who end up in politics because they badly want to be politicians.
Warren made her name as a Harvard law professor who became something of a public intellectual. She was early in recognizing how squeezed middle-class families had become, and in arguing for a consumer financial protection bureau, and in making the case against the spiraling complexity of Wall Street.
She's continued pushing some big thoughts in the Senate. She's been out front arguing for the reinstatement of Glass-Steagall, for instance. She's made interesting points about the pro-business drift of the federal judiciary. She's pushed hard on the idea that banks shouldn't become so big that they're effectively immune from criminal prosecution.
She's in politics, in other words, because she cares about policy, and because she's got some big ideas for improving it. A presidential campaign is her best shot at making those ideas the Democratic Party's platform rather than just Elizabeth Warren's press releases.
4) What else is she going to be doing between 2015 and 2016?
If Warren were, say, the chair of the Senate Banking Committee, and if Democrats controlled the House and the Senate and the presidency, then there would be a good argument that Warren could do more as a legislator than as a candidate. But Warren is, in real life, the second-most junior senator on the Banking Committee. And she's likely to be serving in a Senate controlled by Republicans, at a time when the White House is controlled by a Democrat, and absolutely nothing is getting done.
So it's not just that running for president could do an enormous amount to push Warren's issues forward. It's that hanging around the Senate isn't going to do anything for Warren's issues at all. It's hard to imagine two better years to spend away from the Senate than 2015 and 2016.
5) She might not get another chance
This is an argument Ryan Lizza made in December of 2005, in a piece arguing that Obama should do the then-unthinkable and run for president, so I'll just quote him:
The kind of political star power Obama has doesn't last. My favorite law of American politics is that candidates have only 14 years to become president [or vice president]. That is their expiration date … the majority of presidents since 1900 have fallen on the low end of this zero-to-fourteen-year spectrum: zero (Dwight Eisenhower, Herbert Hoover, William Howard Taft), two years (Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt), four years (Franklin Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge), and six years (George W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, Warren Harding). The lesson is that Obama must strike while he is hot or risk fading into obscurity.
You can pretty much swap Warren's name in for Obama's throughout that whole section. If Warren doesn't run in 2016 and Hillary Clinton does run and wins, then it will be at least eight years until Warren can run again. By then, she will likely have lost all or most of her star power. Wall Street reform will probably have faded as an issue. And she'll be 75 years old. Warren will have missed her moment.
6) And if she loses? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Warren isn't up for reelection in 2016, so there's no particular conflict between keeping her seat and running for president. And if she loses, there's no particular reason to think she won't join the illustrious ranks of senators who ran for president, fell a bit short, and then became even more important senators. That list includes Democrats like Ted Kennedy, Joe Biden, and John Kerry, as well as Republicans like John McCain, Bob Dole, and Richard Lugar. Senators don't get penalized for running for president and losing.
Which is all to say that the question isn't, "Why should Elizabeth Warren run for president?" It's, "Why shouldn't she?"
Correction: This piece initially used Sen. Lamar Alexander as one of the examples of US senators who ran for president, lost, and then became a yet more important member of the Senate. Alexander actually ran for president after being governor of Tennessee, but before being elected to the Senate. The text has been updated.