TIME

ELIZABETH WARREN HAS A PLAN FOR THAT

The 2020 candidate is running a populist campaign built on dramatic ideas. Is it enough?
Warren on the campaign trail on May 3 in Iowa, where she’s hired dozens of paid staff to compete in the first caucus state

Voters encountering Elizabeth Warren on the presidential campaign trail these days often seem surprised. After a packed gathering at an elementary school in Concord, N.H., in April, a 40-something woman told me she had expected Warren to be more like Hillary Clinton but found them miles apart. A college student who caught Warren’s speech in Hanover said he was perplexed to learn that a woman once described by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s political director as a “threat to free enterprise” in fact believes in entrepreneurship and markets. And at an event in a Portsmouth high school cafeteria, a retired teacher told me he’d heard Warren was a “Ted Cruz–like partisan” but instead found her charming. “She seems like a real doll,” he shrugged. “Can I say that?”

Warren first rose to fame for her withering interrogations of miscreant bankers and evasive government officials during the financial crisis 10 years ago. Since then, powerful critics in the Republican Party, as well as her own, have painted her as too liberal, too divisive, too wonky, too “strident”—that freighted euphemism so often applied to assertive women. So when I sat down with the Massachusetts Senator on a recent Tuesday, in a windowless office in Washington, I shared those voters’ surprise.

As we spoke, Warren danced in her seat, talked effusively about her family and offered a series of funny extended political metaphors borrowed from HBO’s Game of Thrones. At one point, as I struggled to formulate a question, she intuited what I was trying to ask and, conveying her readiness, extended her hands, locked her elbows and began gently flapping her arms like a bird preparing to take off in high winds.

“O.K., O.K., I can answer this,” she said.

Which might as well be a motto for Warren’s presidential campaign. She has set herself apart in a Democratic field of more than 20 candidates by offering more than a dozen complex policy proposals designed to address an array of problems, from unaffordable housing and child care to the overwhelming burden of student debt. Her anticorruption initiative would target the Washington swamp, and her antitrust measures would transform Silicon Valley. On May 8 she unveiled a $100 billion plan to fight the opioid crisis. This flurry of white papers, often rendered in fine detail, appears to suggest a technocratic approach to governing. But in fact, her vision, taken as a whole, is closer to a populist political revolution.

Warren’s policy proposals have become her brand. On the campaign trail, her off-the-cuff phrase “I have a plan for that!” became so ubiquitous that it morphed into a viral applause line; in Iowa, supporters printed the accidental slogan on T-shirts. Her campaign, staffers

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from TIME

TIME2 min readPolitics
News Ticker
Iran says no to bilateral talks with U.S. Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said that he’d never hold bilateral talks with the U.S., and that dialogue on reviving a nuclear deal could resume only if the U.S. lifted all sanctions on Iran. His Sept. 3 a
TIME6 min read
Michael B. Jordan Is More Than A Hero
THE STOREFRONT ENTRANCE OF THE UNDERGROUND Museum, on a busy street in central Los Angeles, is easy to miss. Inside, it feels like somebody’s stylish home: there are shelves lined with books, framed art and baskets of records. The museum was launched
TIME2 min read
Conversation
WHAT YOU SAID ABOUT ... THE LEFT BEHIND ECONOMY Alana Semuels and Malcolm Burnley’s Sept. 2/Sept. 9 cover story on life as a tipped worker on minimum wage inspired readers with experience waiting tables to dish on the realities of the job. Walter V.