At present, there are three big-name candidates who can be divided into two broad stances: Joe Biden on the centre-left, and Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren on the more progressive side of the left. Whilst such a broad categorisation may lack nuance, it does help us understand the recent clash between Sanders and Warren.
The tension between candidates was most apparent on 14 January, during the campaign’s 7th Democratic debate. In a surprising move of outward hostility, Warren recounted a 2018 meeting with Sanders in which it was alleged that he told her a woman "couldn’t win" the presidency. Sanders immediately insisted the claim was "incomprehensible", but Warren snubbing Sanders’ handshake at the end of the debate only seemed to re-enforce underlying conflict. Both campaigns have since made efforts to de-escalate the perception of partisan division, but this has been slightly unsuccessful. It's a difficult strategy to pull off, given that both believe that they are better fit to lead than the candidate with whom they are trying to insist there is no tension.
It can be a fool's errand to find the liar in politics
It sometimes feels like a fool’s errand trying to point out the ‘liar’ within politics. As such, one might find it more useful to consider the timing of Warren’s allegation, rather than its validity. Either way, it seeks to undermine Sanders’ character on the eve of an important political event on the electoral calendar: the Iowa caucus.
The caucus takes place on 3 February and is widely seen as the 'first vote' in the Democratic candidacy race. Though it has been said that "the laws of politics are not the laws of physics", all Democratic candidates who have won in Iowa for the last 20 years (bar 2004) have gone on to be the final nominee.
According to the polling averages calculated by RealClear Politics between 20 – 30 January, Sanders and Warren both trail behind, with 23.5% and 15.0% respectively. Former Vice-President Biden holds 27.2%. It is argued that the squabbling between Sanders and Warren creates a needless instability within the progressive wing of the Democratic faction. Their overlap in fairly radical policy - both promise to ‘cancel’ the $1.6 trillion student loan debt and advocate for similar modes of universal healthcare - mean that policy-based insults can only go so far before they stray into contradiction or hypocrisy. The infighting between Sanders and Warren therefore aims to pick up loose votes, as smaller nominees fail to reach the 15% threshold to qualify for the caucus. The risk, as has been noted, is that this instability dissuades voters, who instead opt for the ‘safe bet’ of centrist Biden. However, this does not make the tension less understandable. After all, only one of them may qualify for the final race.
Patrick Young's thoughts on the Warren-Sanders divide can be found here: https://www.thecourieronline.co.uk/why-the-warren-sanders-dispute-could-not-come-at-a-worse-time-for-democrats/