There’s only one winner in the Sanders-Warren ‘fight’: Joe Biden

Arwa Mahdawi
Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Is Bernie Sanders a sexist?

Is Elizabeth Warren a liar?

The Tuesday night Democratic presidential debate hasn’t kicked off yet, but there’s already been a heated pre-debate among the more progressive elements of the party about the details of a private conversation between Sanders and Warren. On Monday CNN reported that, during a 2018 meeting in Warren’s apartment, Sanders said a woman wouldn’t be able to beat Trump in 2020.

In a statement on Monday, Warren backed up the reporting, saying in a statement: “I thought a woman could win; he disagreed.”

Sanders, meanwhile, has called the characterization of his statements “ludicrous”.

“What I did say that night was that Donald Trump is a sexist, a racist and a liar who would weaponize whatever he could,” Sanders said in a statement. “Do I believe a woman can win in 2020? Of course! After all, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 3m votes in 2016.”

The Washington Post appears to have corroborated this version of affairs, noting that “one of the people with knowledge of the conversation said Sanders did not say a woman couldn’t win but rather that Trump would use nefarious tactics against the Democratic nominee”.

You know what we have here? A whole lot of hearsay that has been blown dangerously out of proportion

You know what we have here? A whole lot of hearsay that has been blown dangerously out of proportion. I have no idea what Sanders said in that 2018 meeting, but I do know that he’s not a misogynist. Forget anonymous sources, there’s plenty of clear evidence that he thinks a woman could be elected president. Indeed, there’s video footage of him saying just that in 1988. And then there’s the fact that he encouraged Warren to enter the 2016 presidential race. Not to mention his track record of supporting progressive young female politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar. Calling Sanders, who is one of the very few high-profile politicians with a functioning moral compass, a misogynist is entirely nonsensical.

Does this mean I think Warren was lying about the conversation in order to get ahead in the polls, as some Sanders supporters have claimed? Absolutely not. I think that Sanders probably phrased his thoughts imperfectly and Warren understood him to be saying that a woman couldn’t beat Trump. Sometimes a misunderstanding is just a misunderstanding.

Related: Warren and Sanders row highlights divides before Iowa Democratic debate

In a perfect world, the 2018 conversation between Warren and Sanders would be a non-story. Both candidates have progressive records that speak for themselves; both candidates are on the same side. Nothing is to be gained by pitting them against each other; we should all be focusing on the bigger task of beating Trump. Instead of fizzling into nothing, however, this story seems to have brought out the worst in certain factions of Sanders and Warren supporters.

Some Sanders fans have been encouraging people who donated to Warren’s campaign to ask for a refund; #RefundWarren started trending on Twitter on Tuesday. Meanwhile, some Warren supporters have been acting as if this simple misunderstanding is somehow part of the #MeToo moment and that if you don’t believe Warren then you don’t “believe women”. This is unhelpful and insulting.

Much of the mainstream media, meanwhile, has been fanning the flames of this supposed “fight” and reporting on the rift with incendiary headlines and apparent glee.

Ultimately, neither Sanders nor Warren will emerge out of this spat looking good. The only real winner is Joe Biden. He’s doing to his best to stay out of the news, as much as his gaffes will allow, and to maintain his frontrunner status. There are plenty of people out there who would love to see progressives eat themselves, thus ensuring Biden gets the nomination. Let’s not give those people the satisfaction of sabotaging ourselves, shall we?