Sanders-Warren Spat Overtakes the News Cycle

Source: The Intercept

So much for unity. Just a week after progressive leaders called for further cooperation between the presidential campaigns of Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, a series of media leaks has led to an escalation of hostilities between the candidates and their supporters. For some diehards, the weekend fireworks were vindication of their belief that unity was always a pipe dream; in an election, they say, there can only be one winner, and that zero-sum calculus necessarily leads to conflict. “Perhaps this new level of hostility between the campaigns can be put back in the bag,” said Nathan Robinson, editor of Current Affairs and a vociferous Sanders backer, who last week argued for harsher criticism of Warren. “But it shouldn’t be. We need to be critical and blunt. There is every reason to be hostile toward a candidate who has just tried to destroy your campaign with a damaging allegation.”

Several progressive leaders and groups — some who’ve endorsed Warren, some who back Sanders, and some who’ve yet to endorse either candidate — strongly disagreed. In conversations with The Intercept, they called for a truce, insisting that a slugfest between Warren and Sanders, less than a month before the Iowa caucuses, only helps the corporate wing of the Democratic Party. Leaders from MoveOn, the Working Families Party, Justice Democrats, Democracy for America, the Center for Popular Democracy Action, Sunrise Movement, and Indivisible all called on the two candidates to cease attacking each other and focus on the issues. And the Warren campaign today told BuzzFeed it wants to “de-escalate.” Neither the Warren nor the Sanders campaign responded to The Intercept’s request for comment.

“These new hostilities have been needled and fostered by people who want to maintain control in this current system. It’s the age-old ruling-class strategy of divide and conquer,” said labor leader Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA. “The only way the people win is through solidarity. So stop beating up on each other, figure out how to find common ground, and get back to talking about the issues that matter, like health care, the dignity of all work, and the existential threat of climate crisis.”

The rising conflict sets up a primetime showdown between Sanders and Warren at CNN’s debate in Des Moines, Iowa, on Tuesday night. “These campaigns need to understand that spats like this will diminish aggregate support for progressives,” said David Segal, a progressive strategist and former Rhode Island state representative who has advocated strategies to unify progressives.

“Last week’s Des Moines Register poll suggested progressives might come in first and second in the Iowa caucus,” he added. “It’s hard to imagine something more likely to undermine that outcome — and hand it to [Joe] Biden or [Pete] Buttigieg — than a three-weeklong throwdown between Sanders and Warren. They need to simmer down and provide a clear display of solidarity on the debate stage tomorrow.”

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich put the same point more colorfully: “If progressive Democrats don’t hang together, corporate Democrats will hang them separately.”

Over the weekend, the de facto nonaggression pact began to fray when a voter outreach script, obtained by Politico, appeared to encourage Sanders volunteers to say that Warren appealed only to “highly-educated, more affluent people” and that she was “bringing no new bases into the Democratic Party.” Warren responded by expressing disappointment that Sanders was “sending his volunteers out to trash [her],” while Sanders denied that he had approved the script, blaming it on one of hundreds of employees who work on his campaign. “Elizabeth and I continue to work together. We will debate the issues. Nobody is gonna trash Elizabeth,” he said.

The fires were stoked again on Monday, when CNN reported that in December 2018, during a private meeting between the two candidates, Sanders had said he didn’t think a woman could beat Donald Trump. Sanders called the story “ludicrous” and lamented that “staff who weren’t in the room are lying about what happened.” Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir called on Warren to clear the air. After several hours without comment, Warren confirmed the story but downplayed its importance. “Among the topics that came up was what would happen if Democrats nominated a female candidate. I thought a woman could win; he disagreed,” Warren said. “I have no interest in discussing this private meeting any further because Bernie and I have far more in common that our differences on punditry.” Warren said she had “no doubt” the two candidates would “continue to work together to defeat Donald Trump.” On Tuesday, the BuzzFeed story notes, Warren campaign officials told key supporters in a group chat, “Re: where we go from here — our goal is de-escalation and focusing on our shared goals.”

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