We were glad to see Elizabeth Warren make a forceful case for a female president during Tuesday night’s debate. It seems idiotic that, as a nation in 2020, we would need a female candidate for the presidency to defend such a thing. It should be a given.
The news this week suggested that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders stated in 2018 during a private meeting with Warren that gender might be affect her electability. Sanders vehemently denied Warren’s sexism accusation.
Over the weekend, Warren said she was “disappointed” in Sanders after Politico reported that his campaign had distributed a script to volunteers suggesting she appealed mainly to highly educated voters. On Monday, CNN reported that Sanders had told Warren in a private meeting in 2018 that he thought a woman could not win the presidency.
But clearly something has happened between them.
The most tense moment of the Democratic debate in Iowa came just moments after it ended: Warren walked over to Sanders and refused to shake his outstretched hand. After a short exchange of words, he threw up his hands and then turned away from her.
According to Vox, people familiar with the exchange said Warren walked over and told Sanders that she was concerned that, during the debate, he had mischaracterized a conversation they had in 2018 about whether a woman could win the presidency. She has accused him of saying that a woman could not; he has denied that remark.
Appearing frustrated, Sanders asked to discuss the matter at a different time, said the people, who insisted on anonymity to discuss a sensitive, private conversation. He pointed his finger toward her, then back at himself, before turning and walking away.
Both the Warren and Sanders campaigns declined to comment on Wednesday.
“Perhaps it was an intentional snub and Warren didn’t want to shake his hand. It could also have been an awkward oversight akin to not noticing someone trying to give you a high five or waving to someone only to realize they weren’t waving at you. It’s even less clear what they discussed,” Vox noted in its commentary.
A July Daily Beast/Ipsos national poll found 74 percent of voters said they’d be comfortable with a woman as president, but only 33 percent said their neighbors would be fine with that. More broadly, this dynamic has been framed in terms of “electability” — more than anything, voters tell pollsters, they want a Democratic nominee who can beat Donald Trump.
It’s a conversation the candidates on stage were ready to wade into, according to The Associated Press.
“Back in the 1960s, people asked could a Catholic could win. Back in 2008, people asked if an African American could win,” Warren said. “In both times, the Democratic Party stepped up and said yes, got behind their candidate, and we changed America. That is who we are.”
And Sen. Amy Klobuchar, of Minnesota, has routinely made the case she is the candidate with the most electability based on her record: she has never lost an election, and she performs well in traditionally Republican districts in her home state of Minnesota. (She has also outperformed both President Barack Obama and Clinton. In 2012, when Obama carried Minnesota with 53 percent of the vote, Klobuchar got 65 percent in her Senate bid. Clinton won only nine of Minnesota’s counties in 2016; in 2018, Klobuchar won 51.)
The clock is ticking: Candidates are under enormous pressure to differentiate themselves and to win over undecided voters.
The rift further threatens to split the Democratic Party’s left flank (as well as the senators’ longtime liberal alliance) at a critical moment less than three weeks before caucus and primary voting begins.
Warren attempted to defuse the situation.
“Look at the men on this stage. Collectively they have lost 10 elections,” Warren said. “The only people on this stage who have won every single election that they’ve been in are the women.”
Sanders responded: “Does anybody in their right mind think a woman can’t be elected president?” he asked. “Of course a woman can win.”
(Interestingly, a debate moderator sided with Warren asking Bernie: “Senator Sanders, CNN reported yesterday, and 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, 78, and Warren, 70, have consistently polled in second and third place, respectively, in nationwide polls. Vice President Joe Biden has maintained the top spot in most nationwide polls.
We will see what effect this internal debate has on those numbers.