In Charleston, S.C., a Sanders supporter asked if Warren and other candidates would try to deprive Sanders of the nomination if he got a plurality but not majority of the delegates. She pointed out that Sanders’s own position had flipped 180 degrees since 2016, when he tried to solicit the help of superdelegates to prevent Hillary Clinton’s nomination. Back then, he insisted that a majority was required with the participation of superdelegates.
Sanders’s supporter tried to deny the indisputable facts. Warren sternly corrected him and continued to admonish Sanders to play by the rules he helped draft. It was a tour de force performance:
So @ewarren had the audacity last night at the #CNNTownHall to tell the truth about @BernieSanders double standard on superdelegates rules to pick the nominee and now the vile, bad faith Bernie Bros cult + bots are saying #PrimaryWarren. 🤦🏻♂️🤦🏻♂️🤦🏻♂️👇🏼pic.twitter.com/0hpecqnzkp— Fernand R. Amandi (@AmandiOnAir) February 27, 2020
The incident underscored several key points about the race and Warren’s verbal abilities.
First, only former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg comes close to matching her verbal acuity and steeliness in the heat of the moment. Warren’s ability to control the conversation — talking right through the questioner’s suggestion that Sanders had not switched positions — and to both overwhelm and frustrate her verbal prey is unmatched. Those who have watched her dismember former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg recognize the technique. Unlike Sanders, who gets rattled, yells louder and shows anger when challenged, she remains cheerily in command of herself and the situation. (It is what many parents and teachers strive to do when confronted with an argumentative child.)
Second, despite her considerable talents, she refuses to confront Sanders when it could make a difference in the race. She shies from engaging with him onstage, preferring to attack other candidates who, quite frankly, are not her problem in the race. Sanders is. Instead, she argues she would be a better president than Sanders but really does not explain why. She is mired in third or fourth place because voters think Sanders is a strong, tough candidate who can beat President Trump. Only by showing how easily it is to tie him up in knots, expose his hypocrisy and reveal his weaknesses will Warren be able to knock him out of the lead. Refusing to do so suggests she is not playing for keeps.
She is never going to win over the Bernie Bros who refuse to recognize reality any more than Democrats are going to win over red hat-wearing Make America Great Again fans. She can, however, win progressives who are not cultists and lure some moderates who recognize her as tough combatant, more reasonable and hence more effective than Sanders.
Third, Sanders decries a contested convention — erroneously called a “brokered” convention because no one is in a position to broker anything these days — because he believes he will only have a plurality. It is also noteworthy that he is at a disadvantage should the nomination go to a second round, not because evil corporate forces (i.e., other Democrats) are seeking to do him in, but because he has for years stuck his finger in the eye of fellow Democrats, sought to foment divisions, alienated moderates and presented himself as the only Democrat with a pure heart. That is not the profile of someone likely to assemble a coalition. Indeed, it speaks to a fundamental weakness: He lacks the skills to win over those who are needed both to win an electoral majority and then govern. (Imagine the person who’s been ridiculing Democratic moderates trying to negotiate a Medicare-for-all scheme with these same moderates.) A contested convention would test the skills of persuasion, compromise and conciliation, none of which Sanders has mastered.
Finally, Warren reminded us how deeply hypocritical Sanders’s approach has been. For all his kvetching about rules and unfairness, Warren is correct that his supporters worked furiously to retain the rule requiring a majority of delegates for the nomination. To now object, and to object with great moral indignation and willful misrepresentation about the sequence of events, speaks to his lack of candor and willingness to manipulate his supporters. How did the questioner come to believe, falsely, that Sanders has been consistent? Inside the Bernie Bros echo chamber, critics are liars and Sanders is the victim — always. Personality cults usually operate this way.
Watching Warren slice and dice a know-it-all was satisfying (as was watching her flummox Bloomberg), but if she wants to stop Sanders, she has to summon the will to put him in his place when the eyes of the party are on the two of them. That comes in a debate, when she needs to decide if she will risk the wrath of the Bernie Bros to defend the facts, herself and the party from a disastrous nomination.