Monday, January 20, 2020

Thoughts on Warren, Sanders and the Convention: The Choices Facing Elizabeth Warren


Elizabeth Warren talking at SXSW about the now-famous private conversation with Bernie Sanders

by Thomas Neuburger

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. She then said the following:
Warren: I think you called me a liar on national TV.

Sanders: What?

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.

Warren: Anytime.

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 have resulted 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 explanations have been offered as to 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" spoke to CNN or spoke to people who spoke to CNN. Or it could be a combination of the two.

About the latter possibility, Ryan Grim writes, "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."

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 just 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 fires 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 wildfire that coursed through the Sanders-Clinton primary and beyond.
  • Rightly or wrongly, Warren's polling numbers among voters have fallen, while Sanders' support 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. She may still 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. This could change in the future, but these are the trends today.

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 appeal to progressives — Warren and Sanders both make this claim — must win the nomination on the first ballot by winning a clear majority, 51%, 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 really is 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.) The longer she delays after that point, the more she hurts the progressive cause.

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.   

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At 9:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This statement sickens me:
"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."

I knew all those Bernie types in college in the mid-60s. Their holier-than-thou ideological purity was off-putting and boring then, and it's more so 50+ years later. They must find their noses particularly appetizing because they regularly bite them off to spite their faces.

At 10:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon 9:40 AM,

The demons you are wrestling with have nothing to do with Warren's very unfriendly conduct towards Bernie. Nobody can stop you or Warren from trying to elect Biden, but everybody will know that this will make both of you far lower than merely failing a "purity" test.

At 10:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Warren began losing my support with her announcement that she was considering taking large donations. Her continued retreat from M4A added momentum to the growing distance between her and me. Her inability to deal with an off-script heckler -and needing to be rescued by Ayanna Pressley- showed me that she wouldn't be able to deal with Biden - or Trump if she somehow won the nomination.

The entitlement of the Hillary camp remains strong, and the lessons of 2016 were clearly not learned. Blaming Sanders supporters for the marred female visages of HER! followers clearly shows this. I hope their corporate health insurance will cover proboscis replacement.

At 10:36 AM, Blogger TrumanTown said...

Warren Has Ample Of Time To Go After Biden's God Awful Record, But She Doesn't B/C She Absolutely Cowers To Power!Another Thing Warren Has Never Been A Progressive, She Has Lied Her Entire Career That Will Suit Her Purpose!

At 2:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't really see this about "purity". It's a question of credibility and judgment. Just as a matter of pure strategy, what did Warren think the practical effect would be of this attack against Sanders right before the debate? It gained nothing for Warren -- probably cost her support and goodwill with potential allies. It made Klobuchar and Biden look more like a reasonable alternatives. She needs to get better advisors, not a bunch of former Clinton campaign staffers who are more invested in beating Bernie than in beating Biden or Trump, and who are clearly just as happy to work with any other Dem candidate as they are for Warren. Loyalty and judgment also matter.

As a practical matter, I still think that Sanders path to the nomination is a lot easier if Warren isn't actively running interference for Joe Biden. The sense that I get is that there probably has been some attempt at a rapprochement between the two candidates over the past few days. Hopefully they can find some understanding going forward. Warren would almost certainly be better served too if she fired the campaign staffers who sold her on the lines of attack from the prior weekend. Their actions suggest that they are probably shopping for work with other campaigns anyways. They should land on their feet quickly working for Bloomberg, Klobuchar, or someone else. Reminds me a bit too, of the way that people were snipping at Kamala Harris on the way out the door to Bloomberg's campaign.

At 3:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In agreement with TT et al above. Sadly. I wanted to believe in Elizabeth after her fairly stellar performances wrt banking and 2008.

But I also do know that her campaign is lousy with former obamanation and $hillbillary functionaries (not to the tune of the biden Abomination, but still..).
And I also have observed, as TT, her waffling and reversing on certain rather vital philosophical stands. Anyone looking objectively at her as she is today would have difficulty thinking "progressive". More like "nuanced neoliberal".

The question is: Is she reverting to her former republican days hoping for the "centrist" lane to be a biden (after his self-immolation... it's coming... believe me) alternative... or is she being swayed by her functionaries... or both?

I have zero doubt that this kerfluff is a media creation; that it is done to serve the biden campaign or at least to damage Bernie;

"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. "

Here, again, Thomas has missed the boat. the first "event" must be true, but it won't be true. I see Elizabeth staying the course and NEVER endorsing Bernie and combining delegates on a first ballot, which if I understand things correctly, her delegates would not be obligated in any way to cast Bernie ballots. I suspect that she is under contract to the DNC in a deal for a position of Veep or Treasury (or possibly a choice chair of finance or something in the senate...) in the Biden campaign... not with Bernie.

But, again, Thomas forgets about the $uperdelegates. His second point is moot because of these. On the $econd ballot, those $D$ will be ma$$ing in $upport of biden. When, not if, it goes to a $econd ballot, Bernie and Elizabeth will both be toasted.

If I may, Thomas, please spend an afternoon reading Donna Brazille's book and look just a little between the lines. Nothing has changed except an attempt to improve their optics a bit.

And, just for good measure, I'll remind you all that even if Bernie or (a truly progressive) Elizabeth wins the nom (neither will), the party will still maintain twin firewals against any and all progressive reforms in the persons of Pelosi and scummer (and 270 of their closest allies).

At 4:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sanders is pure. Warren is part of the Trotskyite-Zinovievite Wreckers' Bloc. That's the message repeated here over and over again.

At 3:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ 9:40 & 4:09 AM, I'm guessing those "purity types" you hated in the mid 60's in college wanted things like full voting rights for black people and an end to the war in Vietnam while you thought we should proceed more cautiously. Apologists for the status quo like you sicken me. I recommend you take your centrist ass back to a safe space like Democratic Underground.

At 4:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

3:21, you have no idea whom or what you're talking about. But you derive much pleasure demonstrating that fact.

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