Wouldn’t you know it: That ol’ rascal — The Gender Issue — has sallied forth to play havoc in the Democratic primary.

When all else fails, what works better than a his-or-her contretemps? Still, it’s kind of sad that two of the elder candidates — Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) — are setting such a sorry example for the young’uns.

On Monday, citing sources, CNN reported that during a private December 2018 meeting at Warren’s Washington apartment, Sanders told her that a woman couldn’t win the presidency in 2020. He was probably right, of course, because, at this point, that woman likely would be Warren and . . . it isn’t happening.

There’s little question that Warren could prevail against Donald Trump in a policy debate, but policy isn’t even half of winning — and Warren’s I’ve got a plan for that approach to verbal combat has begun to wear thin and could fall flat against the president’s showmanship. The Massachusetts senator’s energy is admirable (I’ll have what she’s having), but Warren reminds one of the overly eager classmate in the front row who’s always waving her hand at the teacher to call on her because she’s got the answer. Every. Single. Time.

Warren is also the beneficiary of the zeitgeist’s operating principle — to believe the woman in all things he said/she said — which means there’s only one acceptable side to be on. Sanders surely realizes this.

Warren confirmed that she did have such a conversation with Sanders. She recalled saying, “I thought a woman could win; he disagreed.” She also mentioned the conversation to at least two other people at the time, according to CNN.

Sanders disavowed any such rendition, saying in a statement: “It is ludicrous to believe that at the same meeting where Elizabeth Warren told me she was going to run for president, I would tell her that a woman couldn’t win.”

At the very least, it would have been oafishly ill-mannered, and Sanders, though he sometimes comes across as the zany professor who just blew into the wrong classroom, doesn’t seem the sort to tell a woman to her face that she’s a loser. In his statement, he clarified that he does think a woman can win in 2020, citing Hillary Clinton’s popular-vote victory in 2016.

If one were a cynic, one might suspect that the gender gauntlet was thrown down by Warren operatives who, theoretically, thought a kerfuffle over the single issue guaranteed to get women’s goats and make Sanders look like one might be well-timed just before the Iowa debate. Having slipped to third or fourth place, depending on the poll (fourth in the most recent Monmouth Iowa poll), Warren might have been vulnerable to a gender-whisperer.

How better to distinguish herself than for someone else to leak a narrative suggesting that Sanders is out of touch, a sexist at heart, and perhaps one of those ’60s male radicals who became a feminist just to cozy up to the rad-fems, who, notwithstanding their ideological passions, were still highly female?

This theory, however, would mean that Warren made the story seem like a sexist betrayal by one of her leftiest fellow contenders rather than what it was — the likely correct observation of a seasoned politician. Or, possibly, she misremembered it.

On the other hand, it’s just as possible that Sanders doesn’t remember the reported details of the discussion because: (a) it wasn’t important to him; (b) who remembers anything these days? (c) it didn’t happen that way and could have been, as Sanders’s campaign manager Faiz Shakir put it, “a lie.”

So, which was it? Obviously, Sanders was in a lose-lose proposition that could only get worse with time and more words, a (preconceived?) circumstance that allowed Warren to take the high road. In her own statement, 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.”

Well played.

The story that was or wasn’t seems bound for the dustbin of political nonsense, but the misdeed has been done. Sanders has been tainted by a whiff of sexism, while Warren glides off the stage with a wink and a nod to her everlasting virtue and a teacher’s talent for ending every story with a moral: A woman can be elected president of the United States.

(Just not in 2020.)

Read more: