Politico reports that Bernie Sanders’s campaign “has begun stealthily attacking Warren as a candidate of the upper crust who could not expand the Democratic base in a general election.” Politico’s report is based on a script it says it obtained that sets forth what Sanders volunteers should tell voters.
The document begins:
I like Elizabeth Warren. [optional] In fact, she’s my second choice.
“[Optional],” I love that bit. I wonder how many of Sanders’s shock troops would pick the option of not saying they like Warren.
Sanders’s backers are then supposed to say that “people who support [Warren] are highly-educated, more affluent people who are going to show up and vote Democratic no matter what” and that “she’s bringing no new bases into the Democratic Party.”
This is brilliant. Sanders attacks Warren in populist terms as the candidate of “highly-educated, more affluent people” but in the guise of a raising a pragmatic concern about her ability to expand the Democratic base. The takeaway of most who hear this script would be that Warren is an elitist, who is not “one of us.” It wouldn’t be that Warren can’t expand the party’s appeal.
The standard line on Sanders and Warren is that they are competing for the same votes in the “progressive” lane of the Democratic party. That’s true up to a point, and it’s why, presumably, the anti-Warren script was formulated.
However, it’s also true that Warren appeals to a different kind of “progressive” than Sanders does. The Sanders script obtained by Politico highlights this difference to the Vermont socialist’s advantage.
Sanders is correct, I think, in saying that Warren won’t bring “new bases” into the Democratic Party. Sanders might. The problem is that, to a greater degree than Warren, Sanders, as an out-and-out socialist, might subtract “bases” from the party.
Warren responded to Politico’s report by expressing her “disappointment” — in other words by whining. “We all saw the impact of the factionalism in 2016 and we can’t have a repeat of that,” she moaned.
But it’s normal, and indeed healthy, for candidates to criticize their opponents. Warren didn’t hesitate to go after Pete Buttigieg in the most recent Democratic debate because it had become clear that he represented a threat to her prospects in Iowa.
Sanders, though, tried to distance himself from the anti-Warren talking points. He said:
We have hundreds of employees. Elizabeth Warren has hundreds of employees. People sometimes say things that they shouldn’t have. You have heard me give many speeches. Have I ever said one negative word about Elizabeth Warren? No, of course I didn’t.
But the fact that Sanders has never attacked Warren in a speech doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have others attack her under the radar.
Naturally, I don’t know whether Sanders authorized the attack on Warren. Nor do I know whether Sanders is unhappy that the anti-Warren script was developed and used or just that it came to light.
I’m pretty sure, however, that the talking points express the prevailing view of Sanders’s core supporters. And I’d be surprised if they are inconsistent with the candidate’s thinking.