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.

Related: Watch CNN/Des Moines Register Democratic Debate

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.

It will take some days before Iowa voters digest the debate, and some days before we see where things may be headed in the first-in-the-nation caucus state.


  1. Bernie’s comment was in 2018, apparently off-the-cuff. This was just months after Hillary Clinton lost, despite having all the advantages. 2016 was all about white men, so the comment may have been said in frustration. Regardless, Bernie should not have denied saying it. It would have been better to say he didn’t remember saying it, and that it must have been in context with Hillary.

    As I looked at the video after the debate, I saw Warren anxiously wanting to talk to Bernie, rushing toward him with her hands clasped in front of her, as if to beseech. This was not a moment for glossing over, it was a time to mend fences. And while Bernie appeared to be offering a handshake, his hand was not in front of him, it was moving from the side, so it’s possible for her to have missed the overture, thinking it as was more a sign of “welcome.” The really notable gesture was Bernie’s “talk to the hands” at the end–and then, turning away.

    Warren is known as a conciliator. My guess is that she was clearly rushing to Bernie to say she didn’t mean for all this to become such a big deal, and Bernie, understandably upset, didn’t accept the apology. That reading is consistent with the body language, and with their personalities.

    But again, I doubt that Bernie was saying last year that women couldn’t win. Just probably not this year. It is not unreasonable to think that this might not be the year for it, as Trump seems to have such solid control of white men.

    • She could have missed his gesture for a handshake. But I doubt it. Isn’t a handshake what they usually do after a debate.

      • I think the question of the handshake was made irrelevant now that we have the audio, her clasped hands was meant to complain that Bernie had called her “a liar on national TV.” As I noted earlier, Bernie should have just said he didn’t remember. It’s not legit to say what the other person heard was not said. Alternately, he could have said it was taken out of context.

        It was dumb for Bernie to deny it. Warren “put it out there,” which puts the issue of HER electability into the public mind. By denying it, he’s making himself look like a bad guy.

        Probably, the best response would have been, “I hope I was wrong in saying that, but Trump still does seem to have a stranglehold on white men.”

        • White males and potentially 15% of the blacks. If he had the 18% of blacks as some think he’d win in a landslide.

          The funniest caption I saw was Bernie offering Warren a peace pipe.

          I think people know Biden will be the nominee. Yes, I heard Van Jones saying he didn’t see anyone who could beat Trump on the stage. It’s Just talk in my opinion. Hype. TV ratings for an exciting DNC convention.

          They’ll all gather around the nominee and claim he’s the second coming.

          • They sure didn’t in 2016. One-in-ten Bernie voters went for Trump out of spite, according to polls. Nobody knows how many just stayed home

            In Michigan, Bernie’s ten percent is 60,000 votes, where Hillary lost in November by 11,000.
            In Pennsylvania, that’s 73,000, where Hillary lost in November by 48,000.
            In Wisconsin, that’s 137,000, where Hillary lost in November by 23,000.

            She also received fewer votes than Obama in 2012, despite the fact that two million more votes were cast in 2016.

            Democrats often vote against their party:
            Gore lost in 2000, largely because he (and especially Lieberman) alienated Bill Clinton fans.
            Carter lost in 1980, largely because Teddy Kennedy’s fans bailed.
            McGovern lost in 1972, partly because centrists bailed.
            Humphrey lost in 1968, largely because liberals bailed.
            Truman did win in 1948, but that was despite TWO Democrats running against him in the general election, with Strom Thurmond taking four states and 39 electoral votes.

            Getting Democrats to work together is like trying to herd cats.

            • Great research and you might be right. We’ll never know.

              Trump, one breakdown said, got 6% of the black vote. So 10% would be huge. 28% of the Hispanic vote and 32% would also be huge.

              If Biden is the nominee will Sanders voters again bail? The same with Warren’s voters?

              In a way it seems like the losers are making excuses.

            • Well, the numbers are there. It’s not excuses. You “hang together, or hang separately.” [Ben Franklin]

              Last week, someone already started the hashtag, “never Warren.” Bernie has been trying to tamp that down. But you can’t reason with fanatics (at either end of the spectrum, as we see in these pages).

              The main difference between Bernie and Warren is that Warren has been known for building consensus. She screwed that up last Tuesday. She should have apologized for putting him on the spot, instead. They should all know there are no “dead” microphones, anymore.

              As for “research,” I’m old enough that that stuff is “current affairs” to me, not “history.” I just had to look up the numbers.

            • Now Time magazine has jumped into the fray. Giving the nod to Warren is a slap in the face to Sanders and Biden. I wonder if they told Obama in advance?

              Warren hardly seems like a leader. I can’t see her confronting China or Iran. I can see her giving away the farm. Her doing away with student debt is hard to swallow. Somebody’s got to pay for that. Medicare for all is another!!! That’s another promise that would be not only extremely costly but would eliminate a lot of private insurance company “jobs.”

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