Bernie Sanders is building momentum going into the Iowa caucuses on February 3. Recent polls put Sanders in first place in Iowa, New Hampshire and even nationally—leaving pundits wondering, can Sanders be stopped? The answer may be no. Sanders is raising far more money than any other candidate and has a passionate base of volunteers. Most importantly, his consistent record, stringent commitment to his values and scandal-free past make him immune to types of attacks that have sunk other candidates.
Sanders’ opponents, the media and the political establishment are scrambling to disrupt his momentum. To this end, politicians and journalists have disseminated bad-faith critiques of Sanders employing the “Bernie Bro” narrative to paint the picture of a nefarious candidate bolstered by his army of mean, sexist and even anti-Semitic followers. This week, Hillary Clinton re-entered the political conversation to declare that nobody likes Bernie Sanders. She even insinuated that she may not support him if he wins the nomination. Clinton’s comments pale in comparison to the Washington Examiner’s article accusing Bernie supporters of anti-Semitism.
The myth of the Bernie Bro, however, has been repeatedly proven false. Bernie is the most popular candidate among Hispanic voters, tied with Biden in support from African-American voters, and has received more donations from women than any other candidate. Ultimately, the proliferation of this myth only serves to erase the countless people of color and women who play integral roles in Sanders’ campaign at every level. These types of critiques have become commonplace in the words of those entrenched in the political establishment, with the enduring hope being the preservation of their political power and economic might, but it was devastating to witness Bernie’s longtime friend Elizabeth Warren employ similar talking points to attack Bernie this week.
With just two weeks until the Iowa caucuses, Bernie and Warren broke their non-aggression pact. The debacle began with a canvass script from the Bernie campaign that outlined major differences between Sanders’ and Warren’s bases. The script noted, “People who support [Warren] are highly-educated, more affluent people who are going to show up and vote Democratic no matter what. She’s bringing no new bases into the Democratic Party. We need to turn out disaffected working-class voters if we’re going to defeat Trump.” This is an accurate critique of Warren’s campaign—and one that voters must consider when making their choice.
However, Warren balked at his effort to draw a distinction. When a reporter asked Warren why Sanders is wrong in his assessment of her base, Warren responded, “I was disappointed to hear that Bernie is sending his volunteers out to trash me … We all saw the impact of the factionalism in 2016 and we can’t have a repeat of that.” Instead of taking the opportunity to defend her electability, she perpetuated toxic narratives about Bernie. She employed a classic establishment talking point that blames Bernie for Clinton’s loss instead of lauding Bernie for unabashedly promoting his political vision and his values in 2016—values that Warren shares.
Unfortunately, the tension only escalated when CNN released an article, leaked by former Clinton staffers, about a closed-door meeting between Warren and Sanders during which Sanders suggested that a woman could not win the presidency. Warren defended her statement; Sanders denied it. Of course, it is impossible to ascertain the truth behind what was said in that room, but it is clear that Sanders believes that women can be president. A video clip from 1988 depicts Bernie saying he believes a woman could win the presidency. Furthermore, many sources say that Sanders only decided to run in 2016 after Warren said she would not. The drama all culminated after the January 14 debate in a painfully ugly moment in which Warren marched across the stage towards Sanders saying, “I think you called me a liar on national TV.”
Thankfully, Bernie and Warren seem to have buried the hatchet. Indeed, they must be united against the real threat that Biden and Buttigieg pose to the possibility of electing a truly-progressive president. At the same time, Warren and Sanders must make their unique case on why they should be president, and this requires drawing distinctions between themselves. The slew of attacks that Sanders has faced this week will certainly not let up. Instead of stooping to baseless Twitter comments, Sanders supporters must double-down on their organizing efforts because if this week makes anything obvious, it is that a Sanders presidency is indeed possible.