Why the War­ren-San­ders dust-up was in­evitable

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NATION & WORLD - By Will Weissert

WASH­ING­TON — As long as they are ri­vals, Sens. El­iz­a­beth War­ren and Bernie San­ders couldn’t stay friends for­ever.

The White House hope­fuls and long­time al­lies have spent the past year throw­ing red meat to the party’s pro­gres­sive base with calls for mas­sive struc­tural re­forms to the na­tion’s po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic life. The dif­fer­ences that ex­isted — how quickly to tran­si­tion to govern­ment-funded health care, how broadly to ap­ply a wealth tax — were gen­er­ally around the mar­gins.

But as their he said-she said feud over whether San­ders told War­ren a wo­man could not be elected pres­i­dent shows, the friend­ship ends as the vot­ing be­gins. With the first votes of the Demo­cratic pri­mary just weeks away, the two are not sim­ply run­ning against the rest of the field — War­ren and San­ders are run­ning against each other. And with that comes an ur­gent need to draw a con­trast.

“Friends have fights,” said Randi Wein­garten, pres­i­dent of the 1.7 mil­lion­mem­ber Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers. “Run­ning for months and months, and with the prox­im­ity of Iowa, it’s not a sur­prise that there are nerves fray­ing.”

Wein­garten called the nasty back-and-forth dam­ag­ing and un­nec­es­sary be­cause both can­di­dates still share pro­gres­sive val­ues. “How many dif­fer­ent ways can we call this coun­ter­pro­duc­tive?” she asked.

There’s a lot on the line since sup­port in the Demo­cratic pri­mary could boil down to a fi­nite num­ber of vot­ers and a zero-sum po­lit­i­cal game in which only one can­di­date, ei­ther War­ren or San­ders, can con­sol­i­date pro­gres­sive sup­port enough to po­ten­tially face Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in Novem­ber.

Polling has shown that nei­ther War­ren, a se­na­tor from Mas­sachusetts, nor San­ders, a se­na­tor from Ver­mont, has pulled away to be­come the pri­mary’s pro­gres­sive stan­dard­bearer.

The flare-up be­tween War­ren and San­ders has spooked pro­gres­sive ac­tivists who worry the sit­u­a­tion may de­te­ri­o­rate fur­ther and push un­de­cided vot­ers to­ward mod­er­ate al­ter­na­tives. Six lead­ing groups even re­leased a “unity” state­ment re­cently ex­press­ing their “be­lief that the surest way to de­feat Trump is for the Demo­cratic Party to nom­i­nate ei­ther War­ren or San­ders.”

“San­ders and War­ren, as well as their cam­paigns and sup­port­ers, will need to find ways to co­op­er­ate,” they wrote. “The cross­fire am­pli­fied by the me­dia is un­help­ful.”

In the Capi­tol on Thurs­day, War­ren and San­ders de­clined to com­ment fur­ther on their spat, which has pushed larger ques­tions about sex­ism to the fore­front. Both cam­paigns have con­sis­tently tried to down­play it as lit­tle more than a short-term feud, but that was un­der­mined when the pair clashed dur­ing Tues­day night’s de­bate in Iowa and War­ren re­fused to shake San­ders’ out­stretched hand af­ter­ward.

And it was reignited on Wed­nes­day night, when CNN, which co-spon­sored the de­bate, re­leased au­dio of the tense, post-de­bate ex­change in which both San­ders and War­ren ac­cused the other of call­ing them “a liar.”

Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee Chair­man Tom Perez shrugged off the fight while vis­it­ing Wis­con­sin, say­ing, “At this point in the pri­mary process, skir­mishes like this take place, but they should never ob­scure — and they won’t ob­scure — the fact that what unites us far ex­ceeds what our dif­fer­ences are.”

In War­ren and San­ders’ case, though, agree­ing on so many top is­sues could be what fu­els more ten­sion. On health care, War­ren was long an en­thu­si­as­tic sup­porter of “Medi­care for

All’s” prom­ise of univer­sal, govern­ment-spon­sored in­sur­ance, only to later pledge to work to­ward it within the first three years of her pres­i­dency.

San­ders has al­ready laid that con­trast bare, say­ing he’d send a full Medi­care for All plan to Congress dur­ing his first week in of­fice if elected.

Then there’s a wealth tax. A planned 2% levy on for­tunes worth more than $50 mil­lion has be­come such a cen­ter­piece of War­ren’s cam­paign that she’s of­ten in­ter­rupted at ral­lies by sup­port­ers chant­ing “2 cents! 2 cents!” But San­ders has sub­se­quently re­leased his own ver­sion that goes even fur­ther.

Even if a new round of open bick­er­ing doesn’t en­sue over those and other is­sues, how­ever, the ques­tion re­mains how War­ren and San­ders will cir­cle each other in the weeks be­fore the Iowa cau­cuses. That’s where Trump’s im­peach­ment trial, which has be­gun in the Se­nate, could ease ten­sions. For the fore­see­able fu­ture, it will pull both can­di­dates off the cam­paign trail and into a cham­ber built on deco­rum that will only be am­pli­fied dur­ing im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings.

ROBYN BECK/GETTY-AFP

El­iz­a­beth War­ren and Bernie San­ders speak af­ter the Demo­cratic de­bate on Tues­day.

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