Elizabeth Warren was asked what she’d be ‘likely to fail at.’ The question knocked her off-script.

"Nobody does well at this question."

Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks during a campaign event Sunday in Marshalltown, Iowa. Patrick Semansky / AP

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s interview with The New York Times editorial board was published Tuesday. And as the newspaper noted, the Massachusetts senator and Democratic presidential candidate “largely stuck to her polished script” during the 80-minute, policy-dense discussion, which took place on Dec. 4.

However, the editorial board’s last question did give her pause.

“What are you likely to fail at as president?” writer Brent Staples asked.

The Times editorial board has asked the question to other Democratic presidential candidates this cycle. It elicited a reflection from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on his personally brusque style, as well as a contentious argument from businessman Tom Steyer.


“Nobody does well at this question,” fellow Times writer Michell Cottle added (case in point: Steyer).

“I can imagine,” Warren said. “Nobody ever wants to answer this, probably.”

Noting that she has an “optimism bias,” the Cambridge Democrat said that the “place I might be most likely to fail is to get only part” of the ambitious slate of populist plans on which she based her 2020 campaign accomplished.

“Now, part’s better than none, right?” Warren said. “But only part. And that’s a deeply worrisome thought. I know that as you sit here it looks like, wow, this woman wants to do a lot and it’s hard.”


For Warren, the worry cuts to the heart of her political career.

The former Harvard bankruptcy law professor went on to say that she has spent her “whole life studying working families” and “why they go broke,” as upward economic mobility in the United States has slowly declined. Making matters worse, Warren said, was that powerful interests had become “deeply embedded” in Washington, D.C. to ensure that “nothing will change.”

“Opportunity is shifting away from not just the poor kids,” she said. “It’s shifting away from everybody who’s not born into the top. And sure, a few people roll the dice and make it big and we should celebrate that, but it’s like this fundamental question of who we’re going to be as a country.”


Warren has criticized fellow Democrats in the presidential primary race for proposing plans that she thinks do not sufficiently meet the scale of the problem. And during her meeting with the Times editorial board, she also argued that voters wouldn’t be energized by more moderate visions.

“Yeah, I do fight for a lot of things,” Warren said. “I fight for a big vision, but if we don’t start there, if we start by compromising, if we start by saying, ‘Hey, everybody line up. We’re going to knock two cents off your student loan debt.’ Who’s showing up for that?”


Noting that Warren’s poll numbers have slipped since the fall, Times editor Nick Fox pressed her on the possibility that voters might be turned off by — or even “afraid” of — the promise of “big change.” But Warren said that she “like[s] where I am in this fight,” contending that the proposed funding mechanism for many of her plans, a wealth tax on fortunes over $50 million, isn’t that radical of an idea.

Warren’s campaign has noted that her wealth tax’s annual rate is less than the average annual rate of return of investing in the stock market, so even billionaires would likely still see their fortunes grow. And yet, she somewhat mockingly noted that some pundits think the idea is unfeasible “because the billionaires and millionaires won’t let it happen.”


“Well, what the hell? This is a democracy,” Warren said.

“In a democracy, how is it that they have so much political influence that one-tenth of 1 percent can say, I rather your kid have to deal with $50,000 in student loan debt, and I’d rather you never get a chance to get a child into day care, which means you either piece stuff together in crazy ways or quit your job,” she continued. “And I’d rather your public schools still have tiles falling out of the ceiling and textbooks that are 11 years old than that the top one-tenth of 1 percent has to pitch in two cents. These are the fights we need to have.”


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