EXETER, New Hampshire — Some of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ most diehard supporters have looked at the conflict swirling around their candidate in the last week and come to a conclusion: They’re for Sanders now more than ever, standing against both Sen. Elizabeth Warren and the mainstream media.
During campaign events in New Hampshire, Sanders supporters said they believed the feud over what was said in a private 2018 meeting between the two senators would hurt Warren’s chances in the election. And they said the days of debate and Warren confirming reports that Sanders told her that he didn’t believe a woman could win the 2020 election have fueled them to consider Sanders as the only candidate they would vote for. Sanders has consistently denied making that claim to Warren.
In a dozen interviews, supporters said they saw the controversy as manufactured by the Warren campaign and exacerbated by the media in an attempt to sink Sanders.
“I got pretty agitated by the Warren and Bernie thing. Warren’s comment about Bernie saying he said a woman couldn’t win, which struck me as untrue, I really take issue with how she’s handled herself,” Helen Weatherall, a volunteer Sanders organizer from Massachusetts, told BuzzFeed News. “To play the race card, to play the gender card — what it does is harm them, in my view. I don’t respect them anymore if they play that card. It’s cheap and lazy.”
“She can’t be taking advantage of the same identity politics that Trump is using to harm America,” said John Penaloza, another volunteer Sanders organizer.
Sanders supporters and speakers who introduced him over the weekend also pointed to the media as an agitator in the rift.
“It’s so obvious — we feel vindicated that some of those things are becoming more obvious to average people,” Penaloza said, pointing to the story first reported by CNN about the private meeting between Sanders and Warren as an example of what they see as media bias against Sanders. “Bernie is an outsider to all of that and the establishment and the establishment media always wants to protect the status quo. And that is finally becoming more evident in events like this taking place on the campaign trail.”
“I blame CNN for doing this two days before the debate,” said Andrew Kimball, a Sanders supporter who said he respected Warren. “I’ve wanted to bury my head in the sand and pretend it’s not happening and it’s something I tried not to engage on because it got a little bit vitriolic.”
Kimball added that he doesn’t think the story and resulting argument between the candidates helped Warren’s chances in the election and that it doesn’t hurt Sanders at all. “I don’t know if that was the best strategy,” Kimball said, pointing to Warren’s refusal to further explain the conversation.
When Naomi Klein, an author and Sanders campaign surrogate, introduced Sanders at a town hall in Exeter, she didn’t specifically mention the feud between the two campaigns, but she told the crowd that the media was trying to “trump up” conflict between presidential candidates.
“It’s not going to work,” she added.
Last week, a cadre of progressive organizations including Democracy for America, the Working Families Party, and Our Revolution asked their supporters to unite behind the progressive movement and to commit to caucusing for Sanders or Warren in the Iowa caucus and to continue to support a progressive candidate in races further into the primary election.
Some Sanders supporters said they disagreed with the push from progressive groups to get members to support either of the two in the Iowa caucuses.
“I’m more Bernie or bust now than ever,” said Penaloza. “I trust him more than I trust any other politician.”
“In reality, I’ll tell them fine, recognize that there’s a vocal contingent of Bernie supporters that will not necessarily vote for another Democratic candidate in the field other than Bernie,” he added.
This story has been updated to clarify that both Helen Weatherall and John Penaloza are volunteers with the Sanders campaign.