Election 2020

Elizabeth Warren's Political Trail of Tears

(AP Photo/Steven Senne)

It looks bad for Elizabeth Warren‘s hopes to move into the Big Teepee in Washington:

The plan was straightforward: After years of being challenged by President Trump and others about a decades-old claim of Native American ancestry, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts would take a DNA test to prove her stated family origins in the Cherokee and Delaware tribes.

But nearly two months after Ms. Warren released the test results and drew hostile reactions from prominent tribal leaders, the lingering cloud over her likely presidential campaign has only darkened. Conservatives have continued to ridicule her. More worrisome to supporters of Ms. Warren’s presidential ambitions, she has yet to allay criticism from grass-roots progressive groups, liberal political operatives and other potential 2020 allies who complain that she put too much emphasis on the controversial field of racial science — and, in doing so, played into Mr. Trump’s hands.

That dastardly Trump, getting the hapless Warren to fall right into his trap! Couldn’t she see that simply asserting her native American identity was enough? That there was no need for DNA tests and all that messy “racial science” when all you had to do was name it and claim it?

Advisers close to Ms. Warren say she has privately expressed concern that she may have damaged her relationships to Native American groups and her own standing with activists, particularly those who are racial minorities. Several outside advisers are even more worried: They say they believe a plan should be made to repair that damage, possibly including a strong statement of apology. The advisers say Ms. Warren will have to confront the issue again if she announces a presidential campaign, which is expected in the coming weeks, and several would like her to act soon.

Speaking as someone who actually is part “native American” and has the familial DNA to prove it, I never believed for an instant that the woman who gave America the blatantly unconstitutional Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was an Indian, just a crass opportunist who gamed her way to a faculty position at Harvard and a regular slot on Morning Joe, where conventional wisdom goes to be born, raised, adopted, and circulated among the MSM.

For some Warren allies and progressive groups, Ms. Warren’s standing by the DNA test amounts to profoundly poor judgment. Some said she was too reactive to Mr. Trump’s attacks — test results would never silence a president who often disregards facts, they said — and created a distraction from her own trademark message of economic populism. The president revels in repeatedly slurring Ms. Warren as “Pocahontas,” and conservative commentators like Howie Carr of The Boston Herald have enjoyed holding the DNA issue over the senator’s head.

“The biggest risk in engaging a bully is that bullies don’t usually stop, regardless of what the truth is,” said Charles Chamberlain, executive director for the progressive political group Democracy for America. Mr. Chamberlain’s group had, in 2014, launched a “Run Warren Run” campaign to encourage her to seek the 2016 presidential nomination. “When you can’t win an argument,” he added, “then sometimes it’s not worth having that argument.”

Maybe it wasn’t worth telling that little white lie in the first place. But being a Democrat usually means never having to say you’re sorry — identity politics is generally its own reward — and so Warren’s discomfiture is something of a novelty. But her tenuous claim to “native American” heritage — by which we mean benefits thereof, including affirmative action in academic hiring — was always risisble:

DNA testing cannot show that Ms. Warren is Cherokee or any other tribe, the secretary of state of the Cherokee Nation, Chuck Hoskin Jr., said in a statement. Tribes set their own citizenship requirements, not to mention that DNA tests don’t distinguish among the numerous indigenous groups of North and South America. The test Ms. Warren took did not identify Cherokee ancestry specifically; it found that she most likely had at least one Native American ancestor six to 10 generations ago.

In other words, she’s actually less Indian than most natives of Oklahoma (where the “Trail of Tears” ended, thanks to “the first Democrat president,” Andrew Jackson) and probably most other native-born Americans as well.

Ms. Warren defended herself by saying she was not claiming to be eligible for membership in the Cherokee Nation — and she isn’t, given that her ancestors do not appear on the Dawes Rolls, early-20th-century government documents that form the basis of the Cherokee citizenship process. She said she was simply corroborating the family stories of Native American lineage that she has often recounted.

And yet she had the audacity not only to build an academic career on the basis of this “family lore” but even to try and parlay it, via a gimme Senate seat in Massachusetts, all the way to the White House. One might think she would be ashamed, but one would be wrong. After all, she is a Democrat.