A few weeks ago, CNBC published an article claiming that major Democratic donors are urging raging centrist Mark Warner to run for president in 2020, as an alternative to progressive firebrands Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. One of their sources says the Virginia senator is playing hard to get, though: "Warner has made it clear that he doesn't feel the 'fire in his belly to run at this point.'"
But according to a donor who received the pitch, Warner “is indeed running,” and has been floating the idea of a presidential run since at least September of 2017. He is "in the process of trying out messaging in general that positions him in the 'middle,'" and is "using his newfound Senate visibility along with Richard Burr as his national 'tryout.'" (Burr and Warner lead the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is leading an investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.)
One of Warner's latest moves? Helping Republicans deregulate Wall Street, with his sponsorship of the Crapo bill to lift oversight on banks with up to $250 billion in assets. (You might recall that mortgage behemoth Countrywide Financial had $216 billion in assets right before it imploded.) Luckily CNBC downplayed that key fact, though, by mentioning that the bill was bipartisan and done "mainly" in the name of helping 'community' banks. Problem is, not even Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, ardent supporter of the bill, would tell me the definition of a community bank.
If the Crapo vote is Warner's idea of a test balloon, he is woefully out-of-step with the American electorate. According to recent polling from Lake Research Partners and Chesapeake Beach Consulting, anti-Wall Street sentiment amongst voters remains high. Two key findings:
Overwhelming majorities of both likely voters and drop-off voters agree Wall Street’s influence in Washington is too high (likely voters: 66% too high, 3% too low; drop-off voters: 64% too high, 5% too low). Moreover, fully half of likely voters (50%) and a solid majority of drop-off voters (59%) see “curbing Wall Street’s influence” as an important issue in determining their vote for in 2018.
Voters are prepared to reward candidates who support efforts to curb Wall Street’s influence and don’t accept Wall Street campaign cash—and punish those who do not...
A key word there being punish... Were Mark Warner and his patrons asleep in 2016? Donald Trump won on "the system is rigged," a message first popularized by progressives. Elizabeth Warren said it to great fanfare at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, and Bernie Sanders ran on it in 2016, giving Hillary Clinton considerable heartburn throughout the primary.
If what my source says is true, the CNBC story is clearly spin. But who's spinning it? Tellingly, none of these "powerful donors" were named. The one on-the-record source, Democratic political strategist Hank Sheinkopf, told the outlet:
Even the mention of someone like Warner is the sign of the Clinton-era Democrats trying to push the Sanders-Warren wing out the door to avoid a battle in 2020 and to get a nominee that everyone will rally behind. It may work or it may not. It's too early to tell.