Tuesday, November 28, 2017
If she decides to challenge President Trump in 2020, Warren will have to relitigate a controversy that first ignited in 2012.
When President Donald Trump casually invoked "Pocahontas" during a ceremony honoring Native Americans on Monday, Washington's political class swiftly went into its familiar and usually unfulfilling ritual of trying to decipher his deeper intentions.
Was he attempting to purposefully distract media coverage away from the White House's skirmish with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau? Was he simply reaching for cheap levity among a group he was largely unfamiliar with?
Or did he view it as an irresistible opportunity to strike at a reoccurring political nemesis who he views as a gathering threat to his re-election prospects in 2020?
Trump's reignition of the racially-charged slight reinforced his complete disregard for politically correct boundaries. It illustrated his affinity for branding his opponents with pithy nicknames in order to degrade their stature. But it also reopened a controversy for Warren that even some Democrats say she mishandled during her 2012 campaign.
While they didn't call her "Pocahontas" in 2012, Republicans seized on a report during her first campaign that Warren listed herself as Native American at Harvard Law School, raising questions of whether she claimed minority status in order to gain an advantage in attaining an Ivy League professorship. A Fordham Law Review piece later described her as Harvard Law School's "first woman of color."
Slow to respond and lacking any tangible proof of her heritage, Warren relied on anecdotal stories within her family, noting her grandfather's "high cheekbones."
The New England Historical Genealogical Society, which originally said there was evidence Warren was 1/32 American Indian, later recanted the claim.
"We have no proof that Elizabeth Warren's great great great grandmother O.C. Sarah Smith either is or is not of Cherokee descent," the group's spokesman said.
But while only Trump knows his true motive, those close to Warren are clearly sensitive about that attack and realize it will be resurrected if she decides to reach for the presidency.
Trump has proven to have a keen sense for identifying a candidate's weak spot and pounding away at it so it becomes a central part of their being, no matter the veracity.
In 2016, there was "Crooked Hillary", "Low Energy Jeb," "Lyin' Ted," and "Little Marco."
In 2020, he could wield "Pocahontas," to paint Warren as an inauthentic phony.
Payne says the lessons from her 2012 experience, coupled with Trump, should be to respond quickly with a concise answer.
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