Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has started punching back at Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), expressing on Sunday her disappointment that his campaign was using negative talking points. (Sanders had claimed that Warren could not expand the party’s base.) Then, more explosively, sources close to Warren let it be known (according to CNN and BuzzFeed News reporting) that Sanders, during a private meeting with Warren in December 2018, said a woman could not win the nomination.

Until Monday evening, Warren herself had not publicly confirmed that is what Sanders said. However, multiple people “familiar with the meeting” confirmed it, according to CNN, and BuzzFeed reported that Warren shared the comments with others at the time. Monday night, Warren laid it all out there for the New York Times:

"Among the topics that came up was what would happen if Democrats nominated a female candidate. I thought a woman could win; he disagreed,” she said. “I have no interest in discussing this private meeting any further because Bernie and I have far more in common than our differences on punditry.” She added that she and Mr. Sanders were “friends and allies” and said she believed they would continue to work together to beat Mr. Trump.

How is this going to go at the debate?

Sanders could reiterate his denial, risking a claim from Warren and other witnesses that he’s a liar. He could feign memory loss, which might not be wise for a 78-year-old candidate and might sound as though he’s weaseling. Alternatively, he could confess and then say he has changed his mind. There is really no good option for him, which one suspects is precisely why the story has come out in the days preceding the final debate before the Iowa caucuses.

Warren needs to proceed with a scalpel — and not a meat cleaver. She doesn’t want to get in the way of an opponent struggling to avoid a major blow-up just weeks before the vote in Iowa.

Other candidates might choose to pile on. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) already tweeted on Monday, seeming to take Warren’s side:

For former vice president Joe Biden — who got strong polling news on Monday showing him leading by 6 percentage points in a national Quinnipiac poll, Monmouth’s Iowa poll (plus-6 percentage points) and a Franklin Pierce University-Boston Herald poll in New Hampshire (plus-4 percentage points) — this might be a perfect opportunity to sit back and watch two opponents go at it. Likewise, this might be a good opportunity for former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg to point to the fighting as indicative of what is wrong with Washington and remind everyone that, while in the military, he worked alongside and had to put his life in the hands of men and women, gay and straight, white and nonwhite.

One thing is virtually certain: Every candidate on the stage is going to insist a woman is just as, if not more, electable than a man. Sadly, many Democratic female voters, party insiders and organizational leaders with whom I have spoken over the last year have expressed the same fear of nominating a “risky” woman or person of color. (“I would love to have a woman, but this is too important!”) Somehow, they, like plenty of men, took from the 2016 race that any woman would have a hard time beating President Trump, not simply that Hillary Clinton (who did win the popular vote, after all) did not get the job done.

Unfortunately, too often the media has adopted the idea that, unless Democrats get an old white guy, they cannot win over old white guys in the Midwest and therefore cannot win the presidency — ignoring the multiple roads to 270 electoral votes, female candidates’ success in 2018, and the vast number of suburban and college-educated white women the party needs to hang onto in key states.

Maybe putting the myth of the electable white guy out there and rebutting it will help not only Warren but Klobuchar, as well. At the very least, it should make for a lively debate and maybe even force the media to reexamine an assumption that has shaped a lot of their coverage.

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