At first glance, the actual content portion of the January Democratic debate, sponsored by CNN and the Des Moines Register, seemed rather tame. The morning after, though, things look quite different. From allegations of moderator bias, to handshake slights, and complaints about poorly word questions appearing on the CNN chyron during the broadcast, the debate was anything but inconsequential.
Let’s break things down and look at what’s happening this morning. The rift started days ago, as we noted this week. However, things boiled over last night in Iowa.
As a refresher, everything seems to stem from this exchange between Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders over allegations that Sanders said a woman can’t win the presidency in 2020.
Sanders supporters are upset at the entire line of questioning and the way the moderators approached the topic, with an assumption that Sanders was being untruthful about the exchange that took place a couple of years ago.
Some viewers noticed, along with the networks, that there was another exchange right after the debate concluded between Waren and Sanders on stage where it appeared that Warren refused to shake Bernie’s hand:
The CBS video above cuts away from the stage for a few moments, but other footage shows that the two do not appear to shake hands on stage after the debate, according to Mediaite:
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) did not shake hands following the conclusion of a tense Democratic primary debate in De Moines, Iowa Tuesday night.
In the video above, Warren can be seen moving toward Sanders. But the Massachusetts senator pulls her hand back when Sanders extends his.
During a tense segment of the debate, the two senators were both confronted by questions on whether Sanders told Warren he believed a woman could not win the presidency at a private dinner in 2018. Following a CNN report regarding that dinner, Sanders vehemently denied making the comment. Warren eventually backed the CNN reporting, accusing Sanders of the sexist comment in a statement.
It’s important to note that at the onset of the debate, during the introduction of the candidates to the stage, Sanders and Warren shook hands respectfully as Warren made her entrance.
Beyond the debate stage, and handshake-gate, CNN is reporting on the battle which extended into social media, as fans of both candidates lined up to sound off:
As of Wednesday morning, the hashtag “#neverWarren” was trending as Bernie allies took to Twitter to attack the Massachusetts senator as a lying snake. (Not kidding; snake emojis were everywhere in the anti-Warren tweets.) “Lie or mischaracterize your ‘friend’s’ comments, double down, refuse to shake his hand,” tweeted Kyle Kulinski, a prominent liberal and YouTube host. “Are you watching America?” tweeted liberal activist and Sanders supporter Shaun King: “When @BernieSanders beat a Republican to win his congressional seat 29 years ago, Elizabeth Warren was still a Republican. One reason she never lost to a Republican is that she was a Republican for the first 47 years of her life.”
On the other side of the argument, Third Way senior vice president Lanae Erickson tweeted this of the Sanders-Warren handshake-that-wasn’t: “That moment when the dude who called himself a “feminist” on his profile shows his true colors on date 5…You hate to see it.”
From the vantage point of watching the dust settle this morning, the past 24 hours seems to have dropped a bomb on this race, at least the race between Warren and Sanders. There seems to be a fear of a split in the liberal vote of the party which could end up letting Biden walk in with a victory in Iowa getting no more than 20 to 25% of the vote. Warren seems to be making the calculation that something – anything – needs to peel voters away from Bernie and give her a slight edge. Sanders, for his part, has continued to mostly take the high road against Warren, responding when attacked, though often pointing out differences with Warren when asked.
Meanwhile, Joe Biden seems to be skating by on all this in the background, just as his strategists would intend him to do. Let the far left of the party battle it out while Biden rides a center-left moderate lane, only threatened by Amy Klobuchar and to some extent Pete Buttigieg, and coast into a victory.
What about down the road? A feud like this could have repercussions months from now if Warren and Sanders are still battling it out in the primary:
After Tuesday night, however, the idea of the Sanders people rallying around Warren if, after the first few primaries and caucuses, she looks like the most viable liberal candidate, now seems fanciful. And, vice versa for the Warren people being cool with the idea of Sanders as the liberal choice for 2020.
Both candidates have been trying to own the lane for a liberal/progressive candidate in the race. Sanders is the original, from 2016, and much earlier, of course, but Warren has been a popular personality with liberals for her time in the US Senate where she proudly supported and advanced progressive causes.
In the end, despite the mini-fireworks on stage, Deadline still says the night was a yawn in terms of any candidate stepping up and taking names:
Or put another way, where are the molotov cocktail tossing Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Julian Castro when we really need them?
Tackling their tropes of economic and environmental policy and ignoring the widely supported issues of criminal justice reform and gun violence, the litmus testing Democrats appeared reluctant to truly engage with the urgency of the political moment, to paraphrase Sen. Warren.
When Warren both rope-a-doped and come out swinging simultaneously over the recent flashpoint of Sen. Sanders allegedly telling her in 2018 that a woman couldn’t get elected POTUS in 2020, the night looked to turn tough. Yet, the moment passed quickly and soon limped back to the participants agreeing to disagree – which never galvanized a single voter in campaign history.
After the debate, with CNN analysts talking about what just happened, activist and former Obama administration official Van Jones said there was nothing in this debate that he saw as being proof of anyone stepping up to defeat Donald Trump. That’s a pretty stinging remark from a proud liberal Democrat and fierce Trump opponent.