So some of the assessments of Warren’s recent strategy toward Sanders have seemed off-kilter to me. For instance, people on Twitter — where both candidates have lots of support — seem shocked that Warren would escalate conflict against Sanders, first over the relatively minor matter of a script that Sanders volunteers were using that described Warren as a candidate of the “elite,” and later, over the more serious accusation that Sanders allegedly told Warren that a woman couldn’t be elected president.1
In fact, this is all pretty normal at this point in a presidential campaign — especially for a candidate in Warren’s situation. And there’s even some initial evidence that her strategy is working! Voters in our post-debate poll with Ipsos gave Warren the highest grade of any candidate for her debate performance — which mostly featured a positive, policy-oriented message along with a couple of chilly moments between her and Sanders. Meanwhile perceptions of Warren’s electability improved among voters in the poll after the debate, while Sanders’s favorability ratings worsened.
More nuanced analyses of the Sanders-Warren conflict suggest that maintaining a nonaggression pact would be mutually beneficial because otherwise Biden could run away with the nomination. But the word “mutually” is debatable. I’d argue nonaggression toward Warren is pretty clearly in the best interest of Sanders, who was in the stronger position than Warren heading into the debate and who would probably prefer to focus on Biden. But it’s probably not beneficial to Warren.