Over the weekend, Politico reported that the Bernie Sanders campaign distributed talking points to volunteers that criticized Elizabeth Warren for having “affluent” supporters and not being able to draw new voters into the Democratic Party. Then, on Monday, CNN reported that individuals who’d spoken to Warren say she told them that Sanders told her during a 2018 conversation that a woman wouldn’t be able to win the presidency in 2020. Sanders responded that while he may have said Trump will attack a woman candidate in misogynistic ways, he doesn’t believe that a woman can’t win, and that whoever spoke to CNN is lying; Warren then said in a statement that she did in fact understand Sanders to be arguing, during the conversation in question, that a woman will not be able to beat Trump. After Wednesday night’s debate, the two appeared to engage in a not entirely friendly back-and-forth, and some of their supporters have gotten pretty ticked at each other online. The hashtag #NeverWarren trended on Twitter, and some accounts began responding to Warren tweets by posting snake emojis, to suggest that she is a sneaky old snake.
As NBC reporter and online disinformation specialist Ben Collins noted, the three most-seen tweets that used the #NeverWarren hashtag all denounced it for being divisive and practically benefiting Donald Trump. Others have noted that the difference between saying that a woman will have a hard time winning the presidency and saying that she can’t win the presidency in the current climate might be a subtle one in context and that neither Warren or Sanders is necessarily lying about what they believe was said. Morning Consult’s polling indicates that more Sanders supporters list Warren as their second-favorite candidate than any other option, and vice versa.
The two differ in their rhetorical styles and priorities—Sanders hammers the moral case for democratic socialism and has said he would introduce a single-payer health care bill within a week of taking office, while Warren gives peppy breakdowns of the ways political and corporate corruption hurt the average person and has said that good-government reforms would be her first legislative goal. But they are more aligned ideologically than any other two Democratic candidates, and both have campaigns predominately funded by small donors and don’t hold special-access fundraisers. If you want one to be president, the other would probably also be pretty good relative to the alternatives, and it seems like most left-leaning Democratic voters recognize this.
Therein lies the problem for each of them in getting involved—whether by design or because of the decisions of overenthusiastic staffers—in drawing attention to the other’s flaws. The national leader in primary polling by an eight-point margin is Joe Biden, who also leads narrowly in polls of Iowa and New Hampshire. If neither Bernie Sanders nor Elizabeth Warren wins one of those states, they’re certainly not winning Nevada or South Carolina, the next primaries, where Biden is also ahead. If Biden wins all four … well, being ahead in polls and winning all the primaries is widely considered a strong strategy for “locking up” the nomination. Then, Warren, Sanders, and their supporters all lose because the Democratic nominee will be the candidate with the least ambitious health care plan, the longest history of moderate-to-conservative positions on racial and economic issues, and the highest level of comfort with high-dollar donors and lobbyists. Womp womp!
You can squint and see, behind the incidents that landed the two candidates in their Feud Stew, attempts to address this problem. Sanders’ talking points weren’t particularly focused on attacking Warren, but on portraying him as the candidate who could draw the broadest alliance of working-class and alienated independent voters to the party. If the Warren campaign’s leak to CNN was strategic, the idea may have been to attract attention to a potentially historic aspect of her candidacy and to her story of working through hardship as a young mother—to draw back center-lane Democrats who might not care as much about the details of her positions as about her biography and qualifications.
With the Iowa caucus 20 days away, Democrats who think Sanders and Warren would both be good presidents should continue breathing deeply, maintaining mindfulness, and ignoring trolls whenever the issue of either candidate’s electability, honesty, or misogyny comes up. The worst people in both candidates’ vanguards are furiously battling over a tiny patch of ground, trying to establish a persuasive narrative about which campaign is stronger and more deserving. Soon enough, one of the campaigns will demonstrate that it is better than the other at winning voters and delegates, and all that positioning will be moot. Till then, people outside the early voting states who like both candidates should continue liking them both and mentally projecting positive messages about Sanders’ courageous convictions and Warren’s brilliance and capability toward the central Midwest and the upper Northeast. Then they should project some malice, negativity, and spite toward Joe Biden. When’s someone going to snake that guy, anyway?