The sum of all fears for the Democratic left just came true.
The informal truce between top presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren broke down at the debate Tuesday night, and it lost a couple of wheels in the process. Now, in an attempt to control the damage, the leaders of six progressive groups — including those who’ve endorsed Sanders, Warren, or neither — are calling for an end to hostilities.
Following a leak of a private 2018 conversation between the two to CNN ahead of the debate, after which Warren reportedly told people that Sanders told her a woman couldn’t be president — a charge Sanders has flatly denied — the topic came up during the debate. Sanders again said it “didn’t happen”; Warren simply said she “disagreed” and wanted to stop talking about the matter, then proceeded to combat the idea that women are less electable.
But that wasn’t the end of the conversation. CNN released audio Wednesday night of a much-discussed exchange between the two on stage after the debate. “I think you just called me a liar on national TV,” Warren is heard telling Sanders. “You know, let's not do it right now. If you want to have that discussion, we'll have that discussion," Sanders said.
“Any time,” Warren replied. “You called me a liar. You told me — let’s not do it right now,” Sanders shot back, before walking away. Following the debate, Sanders and Warren supporters clashed on social media; #NeverWarren was at one point the top trending hashtag on Twitter, but use of the hashtag by prominent progressives hoping to ease tension ended up giving the impression of a sexist onslaught against Warren and fueled media coverage that amplified it.
Progressive activists were quick to call for de-escalation following the debate, but on Wednesday the leaders of six groups with varying allegiances or non-allegiances in the primary went a step further and released a joint statement calling for unity. The statement pins the blame for the spat on the media, and calls for the party to unite to win the primary and defeat Donald Trump in November.
Three of the groups — Sunrise Movement, Our Revolution, and RootsAction.org—are supporting Sanders. The Working Families Party is supporting Warren, and two other groups — Democracy for America and Justice Democrats — have not endorsed any candidate so far.
“For those with a declared preference, this statement in no way signals the slightest decrease in that commitment,” the letter says. “Instead, this statement is a shared declaration of our belief that the surest way to defeat Trump is for the Democratic Party to nominate either Warren or Sanders, as these are the candidates best able to energize voters by providing a vision of a decent society and a fair economy.” (The letter also maintains the groups will “go all-out to defeat Trump no matter who the Democratic nominee is.”)
“Sanders and Warren, as well as their campaigns and supporters, will need to find ways to cooperate,” the letter continues. “The crossfire amplified by the media is unhelpful and does not reflect the relationship between two Senate colleagues who broadly worked well together for most of the last year.” VICE News requested comment from both campaigns but did not receive response as of press time.
Although it’s unclear so far how the dispute will affect either candidate, Sanders has otherwise enjoyed a recent run of good news. According to RealClearPolitics polling averages, he’s virtually tied with front-runner Joe Biden in Iowa and New Hampshire and running second in South Carolina and Nevada, where the state’s largest teachers’ union endorsed him earlier this week. And on Thursday morning, Sanders picked up the backing of Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan, one of the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Cover: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., left and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., talk Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, after a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register in Des Moines, Iowa., as businessman Tom Steyer looks on. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)