Man, when the gloves come off, they really come off. Bernie Sanders may have started jabbing earlier, as Allahpundit wrote, by suggesting sotto voce that Elizabeth Warren doesn’t bring any new voters to the Democratic ranks. Team Warren responded with a haymaker by painting Sanders as an unrecalcitrant sexist. Four sources, two of whom took part in the December 2018 meeting between the two progressive contenders, allege that Sanders told Warren that a woman couldn’t win an election in 2020:
The two agreed that if they ultimately faced each other as presidential candidates, they should remain civil and avoid attacking one another, so as not to hurt the progressive movement. They also discussed how to best take on President Donald Trump, and Warren laid out two main reasons she believed she would be a strong candidate: She could make a robust argument about the economy and earn broad support from female voters.
Sanders responded that he did not believe a woman could win.
The description of that meeting is based on the accounts of four people: two people Warren spoke with directly soon after the encounter, and two people familiar with the meeting.
That evening, Sanders expressed frustration at what he saw as a growing focus among Democrats on identity politics, according to one of the people familiar with the conversation. Warren told Sanders she disagreed with his assessment that a woman could not win, three of the four sources said.
Hoo boy. Readers with long memories might remember that Hillary Clinton and her supporters accused Sanders of being sexist too, even earlier in that primary process than we are now. Supposedly the basis for that was that Sanders shouted in a debate, perhaps before everyone realized that Sanders is always shouting. (There’s a reason why Larry David has a recurring SNL gig playing Sanders.) Even at that time, though, most people considered it a throat-clearing exercise for Clinton’s general-election strategy, which she deployed but which also failed to connect with voters.
If Sanders told Warren a woman couldn’t win, though, that’s a different kettle of fish. That sounds pretty chauvinistic, if not downright misogynistic. But did he really say that? Sanders hotly disputed the allegation, and referenced Clinton in his response:
“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,” Sanders said. “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. What I did say that night was that Donald Trump is a sexist, a racist and a liar who would weaponize whatever he could. Do I believe a woman can win in 2020? Of course! After all, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 3 million votes in 2016.”
It does seem like a strange claim to make in December 2018, at a time when #MeToo was ascending in public consciousness. It doesn’t help that Warren has made a habit of inventing sexism-victimization stories to advance her campaign narrative. This sounds a bit like that very impulse, especially with Warren’s decline in polling over the last three months. She needs to find a way to distinguish herself from Sanders, who’s benefited to some degree to her decline.
On the other hand, Sanders credited Warren’s initial rise in polling to ” a certain number of people who would like to see a woman elected,” in an interview with Chris Cuomo. Sanders went out of his way to praise Warren as a friend and a good campaigner, but he wasn’t doing much to hide his frustration with identity politics eclipsing policy and credibility:
However, nothing in this suggests that Sanders thinks a woman can’t win an election against Trump. He’s arguing, really more covertly than overtly, that gender is irrelevant to the nomination, and that Democrats should be more focused on policy.
So we’ve heard from Sanders on this claim. What about Elizabeth Warren herself? The CNN story doesn’t name her as a source, but she declined to comment one way or the other. That’s just as good as driving the bus over her buddy Bernie, says Axios’ Jonathan Swan:
The most important line in this story is that Elizabeth Warren’s campaign declined to comment. She was in the room for the alleged Bernie Sanders comment and by not commenting she allows the story to run. https://t.co/uP8sqBaJmC
— Jonathan Swan (@jonathanvswan) January 13, 2020
It’s a strange no-comment, to be sure. If it’s false, why wouldn’t Warren kill the story before it went public? And if that’s really what Sanders told Warren, why wouldn’t she confirm the story? This looks suspiciously like eating one’s cake while having it too, but it’s got a strong whiff of gamesmanship from someone who’s getting desperate to reclaim her position in the primary fight. One wonders whether this is too cute by half among the voters for whom Warren’s competing with Sanders.
This sets up tomorrow night’s debate with even more drama. Will the moderators press Warren to confirm or deny the story? And if they don’t, will Sanders bring it up himself? Stock up on your popcorn now …
Update: Remember Democracy for America, the PAC founded by Howard Dean? They’re not too yeeeaaaargh about this feud breaking into the open:
.@BernieSanders and @ewarren, you both are progressive champs & our movement needs to see you working together to defeat your corporate Dem opponents — not attack each other.
Progressives will win in 2020, but only if we don't let the corporate wing or Trump divide us. 🤝
— Democracy for America (@DFAaction) January 13, 2020
Nice try, but this isn’t the doing of “the corporate wing” or Donald Trump. It’s just two progressives going to war all on their own.