After a relatively cordial primary season in 2019, the Democratic race may be beginning to sour; days before the final debate prior to the Iowa caucuses, a spat broke out between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. It began on Sunday, when Politico reported on talking points distributed by the Sanders campaign urging volunteers to inform Warren supporters that she is “bringing no new bases into the Democratic Party” (the script also questioned the electability of other candidates like Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden). But the real quarrel emerged on Monday, when CNN reported on an alleged private conversation between the two candidates in 2018, in which Sanders expressed to Warren that he did not believe that a female candidate could win the 2020 election.
Sanders denied the report, attributing the detail to “staff who weren’t in the room [who] are lying about what happened.” But on Monday night, Elizabeth Warren disputed Sanders’s denial in a statement: “Among the topics that came up was what would happen if Democrats nominated a female candidate. I thought a woman could win; he disagreed. I have no interest in discussing this private meeting any further because Bernie and I have far more in common than our differences on punditry.”
The language is clearly important here: Not only did Warren contradict Sanders’s denial, her claim that he “disagreed” with her belief that a woman could beat Trump suggests that Sanders outright stated a woman could not win in 2020, rather than something grayer, like a hypothetical statement that a female candidate’s gender would be an electoral albatross.
Despite Warren’s call to end the conversation controversy, it’s bound to continue — considering the lack of conflict within the primary thus far, and that each could benefit from the other’s dip in the polls. (A Quinnipiac survey released on Monday shows that Warren commands a 52 percent share among Sanders’s voters as a second choice, while Bernie is second choice for 57 percent of Warren supporters.) Minutes after Warren’s statement went public, Sanders surrogates were already questioning the Massachusetts senator’s credibility on the matter.