2020 candidate Warren proposes new tax on corporate profits (copy)

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks at the Heartland Forum held on the campus of Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa, Saturday, March 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

It is far too early to say who will win next spring’s Democratic presidential primary in Wisconsin, let alone who the party will nominate when it convenes in Milwaukee the following summer.

But to the extent that 20 contenders are engaged in an ideas primary, it can safely be said that Elizabeth Warren has taken the lead.

The senator from Massachusetts is not just coming up with bold proposals — like the ambitious plan she released last week for cancellation of student loan debt and universal free public college — she’s also wrestling with the big questions raised by Donald Trump’s lawless presidency.

Warren’s response to the most serious of those questions has been a full embrace of the U.S. Constitution.

The senator read the redacted report from special counsel Robert Mueller, came to a conclusion grounded in her understanding of the system of checks and balances, and acted according to the dictates of the founding document.

“The Mueller report lays out facts showing that a hostile foreign government attacked our 2016 election to help Donald Trump and Donald Trump welcomed that help. Once elected, Donald Trump obstructed the investigation into that attack,” she said in a recent statement. “Mueller put the next step in the hands of Congress: ‘Congress has authority to prohibit a President’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice.’ The correct process for exercising that authority is impeachment.”

This was not a jarring or radical statement for those who have actually read the Constitution. Rather, it was a savvy interpretation of how the document applies to the Mueller report by someone who is competing for the right to swear an oath, on Jan. 20, 2021, to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Warren, a longtime professor at Harvard Law School and one of the great legal scholars of our time, did the due diligence. She read the report, and she concluded that she had a “responsibility to speak out.”

“I took an oath to the Constitution of the United States,” the senator explained, “and the Constitution makes clear that the accountability of the president is — lies through Congress, and that’s the impeachment process.”

Warren spoke in the direct, unequivocal language that Americans have a right to expect from the president who will have to clean up the mess made by Trump. While other contenders addressed the Mueller report — and some like Beto O’Rourke, Pete Buttigieg and Julian Castro addressed the prospect of impeachment — it was Warren who went to the heart of the matter.

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Warren does not top the polls in the crowded Democratic field. She has not raised the most money. Yet, the seriousness with which she has approached the ideas primary merits consideration by Democrats, independents and frustrated Republicans who are desperate for a president who thinks long and hard about the direction in which this nation must head.

That is particularly true when it comes to the ideas outlined in our Constitution. When it comes to the clear-eyed embrace of the system of checks and balances that should be a prerequisite for presidential contenders, Elizabeth Warren has made herself the frontrunner.

John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. jnichols@madison.com and @NicholsUprising. 

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