Despite some murmurings to the contrary from their campaigns in recent days, the two Democratic presidential contenders on the left of the spectrum, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), largely avoided a public scrap during the last debate before the Iowa caucuses.
In the days leading up to Tuesday’s debate, all signs pointed to an impending clash. A volunteer script from Sanders’ campaign published by Politico criticized Warren, who in turn criticized Bernie for “trashing” her. Then, CNN reported that Sanders, in a 2018 conversation with Warren, said a female candidate couldn’t win the presidency. Sanders denied the report, Warren affirmed it. The stage was set.
And yet, the debate largely glided past the scuffle, and Sanders and Warren mostly spoke past each other when they had a chance to go on the attack.
Still, it’s not like CNN didn’t try to light the flame.
“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?” Abby Phillip asked.
“That is correct,” he said.
Phillip turned to Warren: “What did you think when Senator Sanders told you a woman could not win the election?” she asked, to laughter.
Warren said she “disagreed” with Sanders, then said, as she had before, that the pair were friends and they weren’t in the race to fight each other.
She moved on, making the broader, winning argument that the two women on stage, she said Sen. Klobuchar, hadn’t ever lost an election.
There was a bit of awkwardness a few minutes later in the debate — Sanders took issue with Warren’s claim that she was the only person on stage to beat a Republican incumbent in 30 years, pointing out that he beat such an incumbent… in 1990.
But, before long, the pair were back to what they’ve done in debates past: Making a case for a leftward shift within the party.
Their usual, informal truce was clear during the debate’s discussion of Medicare for All, as Biden, Buttigieg and Klobuchar argued that Democratic voters didn’t want the kinds of policies Sanders and Warren have pitched.
“Every other major country on Earth is guaranteeing healthcare for all,” Sanders said. “The time is long overdue for us to do the same.”
Warren made the case a few minutes later.
“We can let people experience what health care is like when it’s you and your doctor, your mental health professional, your nurse practitioner with no insurance company standing in the middle,” she said.