×

The real winner of the 2016 election is ... Elizabeth Warren

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
Getty Images
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)

Don't bother trying to beat your friends with your predictions for the final popular and electoral voter tallies in the presidential election. You might end up nailing the numbers just right, but if you're picking between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton you've already lost. That's because the winner of the 2016 election cycle is Senator Elizabeth Warren.

How so? Compared to a year ago, Warren's progressive wing of the Democratic Party has grown exponentially in power and influence thanks to the success of Senator Bernie Sanders' presidential run and his campaign's staunch and clear critique of Wall Street, corporate America, and capitalism in general. Before the Sanders phenomenon, Warren and her philosophies could conceivably be marginalized by Clinton and the other established Democratic powers.

Not anymore. In the last several months, Clinton has scrambled time and again to adjust her message to jive better with the Warren and Sanders agenda. And even a sharp Warren critic like Trump has borrowed Sanders and Warren's message of a "rigged" system and economy.

Whether you like or loathe the core message of the progressive/anti-establishment movement in America today, the hard fact is that movement is winning over public opinion. And Warren has become the most effective voice and soldier for that movement, despite what Sanders, Clinton, or Trump think.

Warren's goals of passing new legislation to curb CEO pay, block corporations from storing cash offshore, force companies to make their political donations more public, and basically put for-profit colleges out of business are all stated as clear as day on her websites and social media feeds in a more effective way than Clinton, whose message is muddled by the massive money machine behind her campaign.

More importantly, Warren's relatively brief career in Washington has been singularly focused on these goals with little or no compromises or hypocrisies in sight. Yes, she has shown a softer side for medical device making companies in her home state of Massachusetts. But that's clearly been forgiven by her supporters and liberals in general as simply an example of Warren advocating for a local industry.

And then came the Wells Fargo hearings just last month. Warren simply eviscerated now-former CEO John Stumpf over his bank's phony accounts scandal. Sure, the other Senators from both parties chimed in. But that just goes to show how powerful a force Warren can be. She's the biggest reason Stumpf is now in early retirement, and don't let anyone tell you different.

You don't have to support or agree with any of Warren's positions or crusades to know she can get things done, and more importantly she wants to get things done. It speaks volumes that more voters can probably define and even name Warren's accomplishments after just a few years in office than those who can clearly state what Clinton stands for or has really achieved.

"You don't have to support or agree with any of Warren's positions or crusades to know she can get things done, and more importantly she wants to get things done."

And hey, you don't expect Matt Damon to mention too many U.S. Senators by name when giving graduation speeches at Harvard, but he did more than that in June when he attacked Wall Street in the commencement speech and said: "I don't know if justice is coming for you in this life or the next but if it does come in this life? Her name will be Elizabeth Warren."

Compare that to Clinton. Let's say the polls are right and she wins on Election Day. Ask yourself: What will be her #1 legislative agenda or program? Go ahead, take all the time you like. Still having trouble coming up with a clear answer like "Obamacare" or "wipe out ISIS?" You're not alone.

In fact, it's likely Clinton wouldn't be able to directly answer that question either. That's what happens when your top goal in life is winning an office as opposed to sticking with a set of principles or philosophies you want to advance if you ever do get into power.

Her numerous flip flops on major issues and the methods she's used while in government positions, like having that presidential-campaign-boosting private email server at the State Department, are examples of Clinton's singular and overriding goal of winning the presidency that even most of her staunchest supporters can recognize.

For the last six months, the only message Clinton has promoted successfully and repeatedly is that Trump is a bad person and she's not him. Sounds simplistic, but so far it's been enough to get the Nate Silver types of the world to proclaim her an 80 percent favorite to win the whole thing. But after elections are over, you have to govern. And not one of Clinton's proposals or plans has resonated with the public.

That's the kind of serious vacuum Warren will be able to fill with what even casual followers of Washington politics know is her agenda. Clinton won't need Warren to get Democrats in Congress to vote for her agenda, she'll need Warren to actually set her agenda in the first place.

That will be true even if the Democrats win control of Congress and longtime Clinton cronies Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer become Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader, respectively. Pelosi and Schumer wield no national power at the polls and it's not clear what they stand for at any given time.

That's especially true for Schumer who was once known as "the Senator from Wall Street," and now seems to have only his seniority going for him. Sanders, in case you were expecting him to get into the legislative fray, has already been in Congress for decades and has a remarkably short list of accomplishments on Capitol Hill.

Schumer and Pelosi lead no movement. Warren does. And unlike Sanders, she's already put a number of trophies on her wall. Of course Clinton could have simultaneously gained Warren's needed help and neutralized her power to demand anything in return by choosing her as a running mate, but the wisdom of that move someone eluded the folks at Clinton's Brooklyn HQ.

But what if the polls are generally wrong and Trump is the winner on November 8th? In that scenario, it's possible Warren will become even more powerful. She already beat Clinton and almost everyone else to the punch earlier this year as Trump's biggest critic and social media heckler.

So look for her to grab the mantle as the most visible Trump opponent on the Hill. But dig a little deeper, and you'll see that Trump and Warren actually have a number of policy issues in common. They include eliminating the carried interest tax loophole for hedge fund managers and coming up with more ways to block or punish corporate offshoring.

If Trump really wants to make his presidency about deal making, he'll realize the woman he slams by calling her "Pocahontas" will be the key to getting some of those deals made and goals achieved. If that happens, it will be very similar to the way President Ronald Reagan made deals with Democrat House Speaker Tip O'Neil during Reagan's first term. Reagan knew where the opposition party's power was and Trump will likely figure that out too.

But either way, Warren is rising and enduring while everyone else seems to be either withering, disappearing, or just holding on. Remember, Sanders dropped out of the race and is in his mid-seventies. Either Clinton or Trump will lose the election while the other candidate will "win" with the highest unfavorable ratings in history for a president-elect. When this election is over, Warren will look a lot more like the winner than any of them. She already does.

Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.