At the Center for American Progress’s Ideas Conference on Tuesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) neatly fused left-wing economic populism with Democrats’ intense focus on President Trump’s various Russia-related scandals.
Top Democrats at the conference, including Sens. Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand, discussed the pull they felt between attacking Trump over Russia and fleshing out their party’s economic platforms. But at the event’s afternoon keynote, Warren suggested that the conflict is less of a challenge than it might appear. Instead, she argued that Trump’s erratic behavior and autocratic tendencies are both in fact a product of the economic inequality that should be central to the Democratic Party’s platform.
Warren hinted at how to interpret Trump’s Russia-related scandals through the prism of economic populism. Upset that Trump unilaterally fired FBI Director James Comey for investigating his ties to Russia? “Now is the time to remind him that in this country nobody is above the law, including the president of the United States,” she said.
Appalled that Trump gave away national security secrets in a meeting with Russian officials? “Now is the time to remind him that our intelligence secrets are not gossip and that his personal desire to impress his Russian buddies does not outweigh the safety or security of our allies,” Warren said.
She seemed to suggest that attacking Trump’s Russia-related scandals could be done through a lens of not just national security but also runaway economic and political inequality. Here’s a fuller excerpt from her remarks:
Now is the time to remind Donald Trump that our government is not a plaything to make him richer or a servant to do his biding. Now is the time to remind him that our intelligence secrets are not gossip and that his personal desire to impress his Russian buddies does not outweigh the safety or security of our allies.
Now is the time to remind him that in this country nobody is above the law, including the president of the United States. It is time to resist. It is time to fight back. And it is time to be clear what we believe: that no foreign power, and especially not Russia, gets to launch an assault on our democracy without any investigation or any consequences. ... We believe in equal justice under the law, and we’re ready to fight for it. We believe in an economy that doesn’t just work for the superrich.
I have news for Donald Trump: No matter how much he might admire Vladimir Putin’s Russia, we will never accept autocracy. Here in America, we will embrace and defend democracy. And we do that by demanding everyone in our government is accountable — even the president of the United States.
Democrats at the conference admitted that they have wrestled with how to talk about Russia. Gillibrand promised to not let Trump’s Russia scandals derail her from talking about economic policies. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi talked about the importance of focusing on both Russia and putting forward concrete economic policies, as did Harris.
“We must multitask,” Harris told the crowd in a speech Tuesday morning. “We have to keep our eye on what’s happening with North Korea and Russia, but we can’t lose touch of domestic policies either.”
Warren’s message, however, could offer another way forward: Democrats can talk about political and economic inequality by linking it to Trump’s brazen disregard for the rule of law and focus on his own self-interest.