On Monday morning, we learned that Elizabeth Warren is probably-almost-definitely-I-mean-nothing-is-100-percent partially Native American.
“The facts suggest that you absolutely have a Native American ancestor in your pedigree,” Carlos Bustamante, a professor of genetics at Stanford University, tells Warren in a video released by her campaign.
The release of the video – and its contents – mean that Warren was probably right when she claimed – to much criticism – during her 2012 Senate campaign that she is part Native American. But it definitely means that she is running for president in 2020. And running hard.
Let’s dig in.
The presence of President Donald Trump – and other Republicans – making fun of Warren’s supposed heritage is everywhere in this video. It features video of Trump repeatedly referring to Warren as “Pocahontas” and White House press secretary Sarah Sanders suggesting that Warren used her questionable Native American heritage to get a series of teaching jobs at prominent universities.
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This all began back in Warren’s 2012 Senate campaign, when the Boston Herald ran a piece noting that Harvard Law School listed Warren as a minority professor – and used her status as such to boost their diversity numbers amid criticism. Within a week, Warren acknowledged that she had listed herself as a minority in a listing of law professors. When asked for documentation of that heritage, her campaign was unable to produce any. “I am very proud of my heritage,” Warren said in 2012. “These are my family stories. This is what my brothers and I were told by my mom and my dad, my mammaw and my pappaw. This is our lives. And I’m very proud of it.” Warren also changed her story on whether or not she had informed Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania of her Native American heritage; she initially said she had no idea how either school had received the information before later acknowledging that she had told the schools sometime after she was hired.
What Warren knew – and what she said – about her Cherokee heritage was a major issue during her 2012 campaign against then Sen. Scott Brown (R). He ran ads attacking her story and confronted her in a debate over the issue as well. She won easily.
So why is Warren re-addressing this now? And doing so in a slickly produced, campaign-style video in which a) she travels back to her hometown of Norman, Oklahoma to talk to her brothers – and others – about her mother, who she has long contended was part Native American, b) she interviews a series of professors involved in her hiring processes at various universities who insist her claimed Native American background had nothing to do with why she was hired, and c) she submits to a DNA test that seems to suggest that her past heritage claims are likely to be true, and d) she releases a series of documents aimed at bolstering her heritage claims?
The answer, of course, is because she is running for president in 2020. And she wants to do two things with this video:
1) Stamp out a whisper campaign (or more) from her likely Democratic opponents – and Trump – about whether she lied about her background
2) Send a message to Democratic activists and donors that she is 100% going to fight back – and fight back hard
Make no mistake: The timing of the release of this video is not accidental. (Almost nothing in politics is.) Trump has been going after Warren – he dubbed her “Pocahontas” during the 2016 campaign – of late, as reports suggest she is gearing up to run against him in 2020.
“I want to apologize,” Trump said during a campaign speech in Montana over the summer. “Pocahontas, I apologize to you. I apologize to you. To you I apologize. To the fake Pocahontas, I won’t apologize.”
Asked to respond to news of the DNA test, Trump said Monday morning, “Who cares?”
Whether Warren wants to admit it or not – and my strong guess is “not” – Trump’s attacks were clearly doing some damage. You don’t respond – with a 5+-minute video, a DNA test and loads of documentation – if you think that this whole Native American thing is just so much GOP conspiracy theorizing. Warren knows she has a weakness – whether perceived or real is harder to tell – on her origin story. And she and her team know that presidential campaign often hinges on just those origin stories. The American public tends to buy into the person as opposed to the specific policy when considering their vote for president; if Warren has a major problem in that origin story, it could well hamstring attempts to get people to connect with her.
And so, we get this video. And the DNA test. And all the documents. To show, yes, that Warren’s claim that she had some Native American blood is almost certainly true, but also to show that she has a full campaign team who understands how modern campaigns work and is at the ready to deal – and deal effectively – with any sorts of problems that arise during the course of the campaign.
Warren said recently that after the 2018 midterms she planned to “take a hard look at running for president.” Which left some wiggle room and uncertainty. But this video is all the proof anyone paying attention should need to know that Warren’s hedge on whether she will run is simply political talk. She’s in. You don’t produce a video like this if you aren’t.