Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The Elizabeth Warren Standby Sort-of Candidacy

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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I know, Elizabeth Warren says she's not running for president, and many find it annoying that people won't let it go. Even so, it's time to take a look at this one.

National politicians know how to make Shermanesque statements about the presidency. Warren isn't doing that, even though she is doing something else that is suspiciously similar to what candidates do: She's written a campaign-type book, and is hawking it all over.

Her formula when asked (which is constantly, as Ed O'Keefe documents), is to give a quick denial and then move on to her (campaign-like) rhetoric.That's a legitimate way to deal with the question. But her "I'm not running for president," present tense, leaves plenty of uncertainty that could be dismissed with a more definitive answer. Of course, candidates have been known to run even after saying they definitely will not (future tense) under any circumstances. But to the extent that signals matter, Warren's is a fairly weak one. No matter how many times she uses it.

I see nothing wrong with interpreting Warren's answer, along with her other actions, to mean that she's not going to begin a low-odds effort or a protest campaign against a heavyweight front-runner. But it's reasonable to think that she's also doing what needs to be done to keep her options open in case a late-developing wide open nomination fight should erupt. "On standby" doesn't mean she's running, but it's not exactly not running, either.

And that's why people keep asking her the same question. If she doesn't like it, she knows how to make it stop.

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