There is nothing spontaneous about Elizabeth Warren’s political career. Much like Hillary Clinton, Warren is very calculating and contrived — she doesn’t interact much with the press except in controlled situations or with obviously friendly media. Warren obsessively stays on script and sticks to talking points.

Nowhere has the Warren Way been more evident than in how she has handled her Cherokee/Native American problem.

She and her extensive campaign apparatus careful managed her message after revelations that she claimed Native American status for employment purpose without factual basis. Since the story broke in late April 2012, Warren has tried to portray the problem as people attacking her family, rather than Warren’s own conduct.

That is a script and message Warren continued in her recent appearance before a Native American group, as we covered in Elizabeth Warren doubles-down on claim to be Native American in speech to Native American group.

The way in which the speech happened was very thought out. Warren’s appearance was not announced in advance, she just appeared. That surprise element allowed Warren to control the narrative without distractions such as Native Americans protesting her appearance or presenting counter-narratives.

The centerpiece of her speech was her parents, portraying those who question her narrative as trying to deprive her parents of their history. She also repeated the largely debunked story of her parents’ elopement and again claimed her mother was part Native American despite all the genealogical evidence otherwise:

I get why some people think there’s hay to be made here. You won’t find my family members on any rolls, and I’m not enrolled in a tribe.

And I want to make something clear. I respect that distinction. I understand that tribal membership is determined by tribes — and only by tribes. I never used my family tree to get a break or get ahead. I never used it to advance my career.

But I want to make something else clear too: My parents were real people.

By all accounts, my mother was a beauty. She was born in Eastern Oklahoma, on this exact day — Valentine’s Day — February 14, 1912. She grew up in the little town of Wetumka, the kind of girl who would sit for hours by herself, playing the piano and singing. My daddy fell head over heels in love with her.

But my mother’s family was part Native American. And my daddy’s parents were bitterly opposed to their relationship. So, in 1932, when Mother was 19 and Daddy had just turned 20, they eloped.

While her parents were used as the shield for Warren’s conduct, Warren also took a more strategic-level messaging: Warren did a bear hug on the legacy of Pocahontas (the name Trump uses to mock Warren’s claim to be Native American), and attempt to take a political branding liability and turn it into a positive:

I’ve noticed that every time my name comes up, President Trump likes to talk about Pocahontas. So I figured, let’s talk about Pocahontas. Not Pocahontas, the fictional character most Americans know from the movies, but Pocahontas, the Native woman who really lived, and whose real story has been passed down to so many of you through the generations.

If there were a single major theme, it’s that Warren now is the champion of Native Americans:

So I’m here today to make a promise: Every time someone brings up my family’s story, I’m going to use it to lift up the story of your families and your communities.

Your story is about contributions. The contributions you make to a country that took so much and keeps asking for more, contributions like serving in the military at rates higher than any other group in America.

It is a story about hope. The hope you create as more Native people go to college, go to graduate school and grow local economies.

It is a story about resilience. The resilience you show as you reclaim your history and your traditions.

And it is a story about pride and the determination of people who refuse to let their languages fade away and their cultures die.

I honor that story.

Warren thus sought not just to deflect the historical evidence as to her own conduct, but to reset the media narrative to one in which Warren would not be an exploiter of Native Americans, but their champion.

Did it work?

From a media messaging point of view, Warren received many of the headlines she was hoping for in major publications, such as Politico:

And USA Today:

And The NY Times:

Will it ultimately work?

Thursday night, February 15, 2018, I appeared on Nightside with Dan Rea to talk about Warren’s speech and history.

You can listen below. (If embed doesn’t load, try listening directly Dan Rea’s website)


Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.