It was unremittingly hot at the farm in Natick, Massachusetts, where 1,500 people had gathered on the Sunday after the Fourth of July. Remarkably, this crowd had assembled under a blistering sun not for a free concert, or outdoor theater, or even a protest, exactly. They’d come for an open-air town hall with their sitting senator, a 69-year-old woman widely expected to win reelection to her second term this fall. Standing at the back of the sweaty throng, I’d seen her introduced from the stage, then heard cheers greeting her entrance, but couldn’t for the life of me lay eyes on her. Not until I climbed onto the seat of my folding chair in the press section. There she was, jogging 75 yards down a hill in open-toed mules, her aqua cardigan flying behind her.
Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren is in constant motion. She often takes stages at a run, zigzagging around the edges of crowds, waving and giving high fives like Bruce Springsteen. Speaking to groups of supporters, she rocks on her feet, or rises to her tiptoes, with feeling; occasionally she tucks her mic under her arm to clap for herself or cuts the air in front of her with her flat palm. She’ll beat her chest for emphasis, speak so passionately that she gets winded, and throw a fist in the air as a symbol of defiance and determination. One afternoon in Nevada, perched on a punishingly high stool in front of several hundred people at a brewery, she kicked her feet out in front of her with such force that I feared she’d tip over backward.
Watching Warren this steamy summer as she works to move her party through the perilous wilderness of the Donald Trump administration, through the midterms and her own reelection to the Senate, and then perhaps toward a run for the presidency, she appears to have committed her whole body to the effort. Like if she stops moving, the whole world will end.
In recent months, she has hopped not just between Washington, D.C., and her home state but also to Reno and Las Vegas to campaign alongside a slate of Nevadan candidates; to Denver and Salt Lake City to fund-raise; to the Texas border to visit family-detention centers; to Iraq with Senator Lindsey Graham. Within an hour of Trump’s announcing his nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to replace retiring justice Anthony Kennedy, she was striding purposefully toward the Supreme Court steps, where a knot of furious protesters gathered in the dark were bellowing, “Hell no, Kavanaugh! Hell no, Kavanaugh!”
“We are in the fight of our lives,” Warren repeated — twice — when she got to the microphone.
All of the movement, the travel, the nervous animal energy, is in service of this idea: We’re in a fight. She is in a fight.
In the absence of a clear favorite to challenge Trump and the Republicans, Warren has emerged in just the past few weeks as the de facto leader of the Democratic Party, and accordingly, the candidate-of-the-moment for 2020. It should have been obvious: She has the progressive vision and drive, the willingness to go tweet-to-tweet with the president, and that boundless stamina. Perhaps it was hard in the wake of 2016 to imagine pinning Democratic hopes on another woman. But sometimes you need a crisis (or five) to see the obvious, and this summer’s cascade of them has brought Warren’s role into sharper relief.
It’s a shame that perhaps the fakest and most clichéd pose a politician can try to strike is that of the outsider. It’s a shame because Warren isn’t just another silver-haired pol braying about bringing Main Street to K Street — she actually is an outsider, despite the considerable power she’s amassed during her nearly six years as a senator.