When the presidential campaign season began, Bernie Sanders may have figured, as many of us did, that Elizabeth Warren would not make a strong run for the nomination. Polls did not place her at or near the top of the pack.
Warren may have figured that Sanders, though polling well, would fade. To many, he seemed like yesterday’s man.
Whether for these reasons or some other, neither Sanders nor Warren has seen fit to attack the other. This, despite the fact that both are thought to be competing for the left-most Democratic primary voters and caucus goers.
But Warren has emerged as a top tier candidate — arguably the frontrunner — and Sanders has not faded. Thus, as we approach the Iowa caucuses, the two are now seeking to distinguish themselves from each other.
According to this article in the Washington Post, the main point of policy differentiation pertains to “Medicare for All.” Both support it to the hilt, of course. However, they diverge on how they say they will finance it.
Sanders says he’ll tax the middle class. Warren claims she will not. Only billionaires will pay more in taxes, she has said (to disbelief all around).
How will this difference cut among the voters Sanders and Warren are courting? I think it favors Sanders. First, few believe Warren. Thus, Sanders comes across as more honest and authentic than Warren — which, surely, he is.
Second, the hard left doesn’t mind taxing the upper middle class. Nothing about leftist ideology confines its love for tax increases to billionaires.
Warren’s disingenuous position might be seen as making her more electable than Sanders. However, those who put a premium on supposed electability are probably looking for their candidate to the right of both Sanders and Warren.
I’m not suggesting that Sanders holds a general edge over Warren. The Massachusetts Senator has important advantages over the Vermont Socialist. She’s younger, more attractive, healthier, and less visibly crazed. But Sanders has a big following, and it seems increasingly unlikely that his followers will abandon him. If they do, it won’t be because he’s prepared to raise middle class taxes to pay for “free” health care for all.
Were his supporters to abandon him, moreover, it might not be for Warren. The Post reports that many of Bernie’s working class fans find “Scranton” Joe Biden more appealing than “Harvard” Liz Warren. I can understand why.
Similarly, Bernie isn’t necessarily the second choice of Warren’s backers. Some are drawn to candidates like Pete Buttigieg and maybe Kamala Harris or Cory Booker. That’s identity politics at work, I suspect.
Still, it’s worthwhile for Sanders and Warren gradually to begin criticizing each other politely. Even if doing so doesn’t win them a particular vote, there’s an advantage to diverting that vote from a high tier candidate to a lower tier one (although in Iowa, Buttigieg may occupy a higher tier than Sanders does).
In any event, Sanders’s strength as a candidate has provided a strong incentive for Warren to keep faith with the hard left even though, in doing so, she hurts her prospects in the general election. Sanders isn’t going anywhere, so the incentive remains in place. Plus, it’s probably too late for Warren to walk back her leftism very far without paying a serious price for doing so.