Yves here. An initial look at the longer-game implications of the Warren-Sanders dustup.
By Thomas Neuburger. Originally published at DownWithTyranny!
Elizabeth Warren talking at SXSW about the now-famous private conversation with Bernie Sanders
Much has been written about the Warren-Sanders-CNN confrontation at the most recent debate, both the conflict at the debate itself and hot-mic conversation afterward (excellent contextual rundown here).
For the record, here’s what was said at the debate:
CNN Moderator: Let’s now turn to an issue that’s come up in the last 48 hours, Senator Sanders. Seen and reported yesterday that … Senator Sanders, Senator Warren confirmed in a statement that in 2018, you told her that you did not believe that a woman could win the election. Why did you say that?
Sanders: Well, as a matter of fact, I didn’t say it, and I don’t want to waste a whole lot of time on this, because this is what Donald Trump and maybe some of the media want. […]
CNN Moderator: Senator Sanders, I do want to be clear here. You’re saying that you never told Senator Warren that a woman could not win the election?
Sanders: That is correct.
CNN Moderator: Senator Warren, what did you think when Senator Sanders told you a woman could not win the election?
[Audience reaction; gasping and laughter at the question.]
Warren: I disagreed. […]
Note that the disagreement is stark. Though both candidates backed away from further accusations, their positions remain as stated above.
Next, here’s what was said after the debate while the mics were still live. Sanders moved to Warren and held out his hand for a handshake, which Warren refused to take. Then she said the following:
Warren: I think you called me a liar on national TV.
Warren: I think you called me a liar on national TV.
Sanders: You know, let’s not do it right now. If you want to have that discussion, we’ll have that discussion.
Sanders: You called me a liar. You told me — all right, let’s not do it now.”
The dialog didn’t appear angry, though it was clearly tense.
This disagreement could result from a misunderstanding of what was said at the meeting, but the accusation and the denial are too clear-cut, not nuanced enough, to allow for that interpretation. As we have it from the participants, only one of them can be right.
Why Is This Coming Out Now?
Several explanation have been offered about why this story is emerging now. One is that Warren’s side of the “he’s a sexist” story was leaked strategically by Warren or her staffers, many of whom are Clinton and Obama alumni. Another is that one of the reporters to whom Warren herself told the story “off the record” at different private dinner spoke to CNN or spoke to people who spoke to CNN. Or it could be a combination of the two.
Via Ryan Grim: “Additional news in the story: A year ago, Warren told a group of journalists at an off-record dinner about her conversation with Sanders about whether a woman could win in 2020. That appears to be how the news got into the bloodstream.”
NEWS: The Sanders campaign researched whether Warren could be both vice president and treasury secretary at once.
The answer was yes: https://t.co/asT6fCgOKw
— Ryan Grim (@ryangrim) January 18, 2020
Grim says neither he nor any of his colleagues at The Intercept was at the dinner.
It’s also been rumored that CNN had the story for a while, ready to go, and that they were waiting on confirmation from someone closer to Warren — or waiting for a strategic moment; for example, the week before their own hosted debate — to let it drop. None of the latter speculation, however, has been confirmed.
In any case, the story is out there, the torches have been lit, and we are where we are.
What Happens Now?
Both campaigns are backing away from greater public conflict. Whether that holds true in the long run is anyone’s guess, but my guess is that it will. Still, the following is clear:
- Warren has been damaged, perhaps permanently, in the eyes of many Sanders supporters who have considered her a good, and perhaps equivalent, second choice. Her favorability has gone way down in their eyes and may never recover.
- Warren’s charge of sexism has inflamed the existing anger of many Democratic and liberal-leaning women and relit the fire that coursed through the Sanders-Clinton primary and beyond.
- Rightly or wrongly, Warren’s polling numbers among voters have fallen, while Sanders’ polling has held steady or improved. It’s yet to be seen if the incident alters long-term fund-raising for either candidate, but it might. For his part, Sanders has seen a post-debate surge in funding.
So far, in other words, most of the damage has been borne by Warren as a result of the incident. She may recover, but this could also end her candidacy by accelerating a decline that started with public reaction to her recent stand on Medicare For All. None of this is certain to continue, but these are the trends.
What Happens Later?
This whole national exercise has a much greater purpose, to put a progressive in the White House in 2021 — not just a Democrat, a real progressive. Doing that requires securing the nomination on behalf of progressive voters at the 2020 convention.
To do that, one of the following events must occur:
- One of the candidates who appeals to progressives — Warren and Sanders both make this claim — must win the nomination on the first ballot by winning a clear majority of pledged delegates beforehand, OR
- Warren and Sanders must find a way to combine their delegates and their supporters prior to the convention to achieve a majority for one of them on the second round of voting.
If Warren and Sanders both enter the convention with healthy delegate totals — as long as both are gaining supporters and not at the other’s expense — the contest can and should continue, for now at least, as it has. And if they enter the convention with, say, 60% of the pledged delegates between them, the case for nominating a candidate who appeals to progressive voters is strong.
But if Warren’s candidacy becomes unviable, as it seems it might — and if the goal of both camps is truly to defeat Joe Biden — it’s incumbent on Warren to drop out and endorse her “friend and ally” Bernie Sanders as soon as it’s clear she can no longer win. (The same is true if Sanders becomes unviable, though that seems much less likely.)
Ms. Warren can do whatever she wants, certainly. But if she does anything less than help elect the last and only progressive with a chance, she damages them both to Biden’s benefit, and frankly, helps nominate Biden. She has the right to do that, but not to claim at the same time that she’s working to further the progressive movement.
We’ll know about the consequences of this conflict soon enough. Perhaps she’ll rise again, or at least triage her decline.
But if she doesn’t, if she falls to the bottom of the top tier or into the second and stays there, her endorsement — or non-endorsement — of Sanders will be watched and noticed, closely and widely, and she will be defined, probably permanently, by her response.