At this point, it is impossible for us to know exactly what was said in that private meeting between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in 2018, and it frankly shouldn’t matter, since it has nothing to do with the policies that either Sanders or Warren will try to enact as president.
My personal belief is that Bernie told Warren bluntly that Trump will employ sexism against her, and she interpreted that as meaning that no woman could win the US presidency. Given the fact that Bernie wanted Warren to run for president in 2015 and there are a number of indications that he would have chosen Warren as his VP if he had won the nomination in 2016, Bernie was probably trying to warn Warren, and she took that warning in a different light to mean that no woman could win.
I’m afraid that the current dispute between Bernie and Warren means that the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is going to lose. My best guess is that Bernie will win Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and California, and Biden will win South Carolina and a bunch of Super Tuesday states, but it is unlikely that any of these will be run-away victories, so there will be no clear front runner. Warren, Yang, Buttigeig, Steyer and Bloomberg will have enough money to stay in the race till the bitter end, so it will be very hard for any candidate to get over 50% of the delegates before the convention. If Bernie is going to win, he needs Warren’s delegates, but I’m afraid that they have created a rift that will make if very difficult for Bernie to come to an agreement with Warren, such as offering her a position as his VP.
Likewise, there is the possibility that Bernie will need to throw his delegates to Warren in order to prevent Joe Biden or another establishment candidate from winning the nomination. In order for that to happen, Bernie will need Warren to commit to certain policies, but this dispute will make it harder for Bernie and Warren to come to any agreement at the convention.
Before this dispute, I was pretty sure that both Bernie and Warren would be willing to put personal considerations aside and act for the greater good of the progressive causes that they champion. However, if they can’t act as a united front in the convention, it becomes more likely that the establishment Democrats will consolidate their delegates around one candidate and win, which is why these recent events make me sick.
Whether you believe Bernie or Warren, this dispute helps no progressive. Many of Bernie’s working-class and minority voters are considering Biden and many of Warren’s white liberal supporters are considering Buttigeig, so if voters change their mind after watching this dispute, they are likely switching to establishment candidates. According to a recent Morning Consult poll, Bernie and Warren have the first and third highest favorability ratings among Democratic voters, respectively, and this dustup is likely to damage the reputations of both the progressive candidates in the race.
The real villain in this dispute in my opinion is CNN. According to Cenk Uygur, CNN sat on this story for months before releasing it right before the CNN debate, which seems like a transparent ploy to drive up its ratings, as Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone points out.
CNN didn’t even try to be objective in how it reported on the story or how it asked the questions during the debate. In my opinion, something Bernie said in a private conversation to Warren is not an appropriate topic in a debate, but if CNN decided to ask a question about it, the CNN moderator should have asked both candidates to tell us what words they recall from that meeting, rather than simply assuming that Warren’s telling was correct. CNN was clearly more interested in generating sensational sound bites and pushing its own political agenda during the debate, rather than trying to inform the public. The CNN commentators on the debate failed entirely to discuss what Nathan Robinson at Current Affairs calls Warren’s “credibility gap” and examine her “long history of saying untrue and distorted things for politically opportunistic reasons.”