Just weeks before the Iowa caucuses, a feud that was long in the making erupted this weekend as Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), both progressive presidential candidates competing for working-class voters, took turns disparaging each other.
According to a report, Sanders told Warren, a longtime friend, that a woman could not win the presidency. After CNN first publicized the allegation, Sanders vehemently denied the report, but Warren confirmed it — putting Sanders in a bind. He is likely to face more questions about this during Tuesday night’s debate.
Warren-Sanders feud explodes
The first shot came after Politico published a report Saturday claiming that the Sanders campaign distributed scripts to its volunteers describing Warren as a candidate for “highly educated, more affluent people who are going to show up and vote Democratic no matter what” and said she’s “bringing no new bases into the Democratic Party.”
Incensed, Warren accused Sanders of trying to “trash me,” Fox reported, and she called for a cease-fire. But despite calling for unity, it didn’t take long after CNN’s report surfaced for Warren to pour fuel on the fire.
On Monday, CNN published a report claiming that Sanders, in a pre-campaign visit to Warren’s apartment in December 2018, said that a woman could not win the presidency. Reacting to the report, Warren affirmed that Sanders “disagreed” that a woman could win, in a pointed jab at her competitor.
“Bernie and I met for more than two hours in December 2018 to discuss the 2020 election, our past work together and our shared goals: beating Donald Trump, taking back our government from the wealthy and well-connected, and building an economy that works for everyone,” Warren said. “Among the topics that came up was what would happen if Democrats nominated a female candidate. I thought a woman could win; he disagreed,” she said.
Rift on the far-left
Warren’s star has fallen in recent months as she gave muddled answers on her healthcare policy, which opened her up to accusations of impurity from the socialist hard left. Sanders, on the other hand, has been on the upswing in Iowa and the Trump Team has labeled him the frontrunner.
With Sanders and Warren neck and neck in Iowa, it looks like Warren is trying out purity tests of her own, but with identity politics at their core. Responding to the reports, Sanders vehemently denied the allegation and accused the Warren team of lying.
“It is ludicrous to believe that at the same meeting where Elizabeth Warren told me she was going to run for president, I would tell her that a woman couldn’t win,” said Sanders. “It’s sad that, three weeks before the Iowa caucus and a year after that private conversation, staff who weren’t in the room are lying about what happened.”
Will it work?
In recent weeks, fighting over the mantle of “true progressive” has become more pronounced as the primary field has shrunk to a handful of top candidates. Before her fight with Sanders, Warren — herself the target of accusations that she’s too cozy with the system — was trying to label rival Pete Buttigieg a candidate for the rich because of his fundraisers in “wine caves.”
The Sanders–Warren spat brings questions of identity to the forefront — a topic that has not always been the more class-conscious Sanders’ strong suit — but it also opens up Warren to blowback for trying to tar a beloved progressive figure. It’s no secret that identity politics have long been a blind spot for Sanders, an old-school half-way reformed Marxist who once spoke warmly of his travels to communist Russia and Nicaragua, and the CNN report claimed that he grumbled about the growing focus on identity in politics at his meeting with Warren.
It remains to be seen if voters will find Warren’s victim politics more convincing than Sanders’ plain old economic populism, but amid Warren’s recent decline, this does look like a desperate play. If the last few days are any indication, fireworks will be a-flying at Tuesday night’s debate.