Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., continued her early presidential campaigning on Tuesday in Puerto Rico. But Puerto Rico doesn't vote for president, you say. True, but Puerto Rico Democrats vote in the presidential primary, and Puerto Ricans live in some important primary states -- Florida, New York and New Jersey, to name a few. Puerto Rico also serves as a good stage for Warren's overarching presidential message in several respects.
First, Warren demonstrates that she is more than able to throw punches at President Donald Trump. Instead of decrying his racism and misogyny (although there is plenty of material), she decries his cruelty to the vulnerable -- a point that can resonate with lots of Americans. "The devastation you weathered was extraordinary," she said. "Three thousand -- maybe more -- of your brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, friends and neighbors were killed by the storm and its aftermath. The pain of your loss was more than anyone should be asked to bear." It's a matter of dignity and respect, she argued:
Even now, even after the Trump administration has denied how many died and has dragged its feet on sending adequate disaster relief funds, the president of the United States has doubled down on the insult by toying with the idea of diverting your recovery funds to build a wall. ... Back when he was running for office, Donald Trump promised that Mexico would pay for this wall. Now he thinks that the people of Puerto Rico, who are struggling to get back on their feet, should get stuck with the bill instead. It's insulting. It's disrespectful. This ugliness has gone far enough. Puerto Rico has suffered enough. We will not allow anyone to sabotage your recovery - not even the president of the United States.
Second, Warren also used the occasion to show her policy chops. She talked about the lack of respect for Puerto Rico's residents but also reeled off a list of solutions: "A debt relief plan to stabilize the island, a Marshall Plan to rebuild it, equitable treatment for all U.S. citizens on health and other social service programs, real transparency about what's gone on - and real accountability for those responsible." Even if the details are lost on many, she conveys action, focus and confidence.
Third, Warren remains mindful of her general campaign message. She put the Puerto Rico situation in the context of her campaign themes: "Puerto Rico's experience in recent years reflects the worst of what Washington has become -- a government that works great for the rich and powerful, and not for anyone else," she declared. "The examples go far beyond what is happening in Puerto Rico." Then came the list of culprits -- drug companies, college tuition lenders, oil companies and Wall Street.
"When government stops working for the people, when government only works for the rich and powerful, we need to call that what it is -- corruption, pure and simple," she argued. "Call it out -- fight back, and make change. We need real, structural reform, not just nibbles around the edges. We need to take back our federal government from the wealthy and well-connected and return it to the people." Consider this a thinking man's left-leaning populism.
Fourth, while many can disagree with her positions on discrete policies, her emphasis on corruption should have wide appeal. She hit her favorite items on her anti-corruption program: "End lobbying as we know it. Stop federal lobbyists from giving money to elected officials. Ban members of Congress and senior Cabinet officials from turning around and becoming lobbyists themselves -- not for one year, not for two years, but the rest of their lives. Block the revolving door between Wall Street and Washington." She went on: "No more giant oil companies handpicking the head of the EPA. No more giant drug companies pulling all the strings at the agencies that are supposed to regulate our drugs. And one more: Let's require anyone running for federal office to put their taxes online. I've done it. Everyone should do it."
Plainly, Warren is describing a good deal of the Trump administration's conduct, but it's not limited to Trump. Should he not run in 2020 or run and lose the nomination, her message works just as well against any garden-variety Republican who sat idly by while Trump accepted foreign emoluments, who failed to demand disclosure of Trump's tax returns and who condoned conflicts of interest. Corruption is a good theme for any Democrat, really, against a Republican Party that has come to accept Trump's self-enrichment and cronyism as business as usual.