Bernie Sanders is nothing if not an idealist. He believes if elected, he can achieve the Herculean feat of transitioning America to single-payer healthcare. He’s backed the Green New Deal; promises free college; canceled student loan debt; the end of the housing crisis. But a woman becoming president? Apparently, a bridge too far.
A statement from Elizabeth Warren confirmed that in a 2018 meeting between the two senators, Sanders expressed doubt that a female candidate could win the election:
“Among the topics that came up was what would happen if Democrats nominated a female candidate,” the statement read. “I thought a woman could win; he disagreed.”
Across the internet, this sentiment has quickly warped into the twinned shrieks of “Bernie Sanders said a woman shouldn’t be president!” and “Elizabeth Warren is a liar!” The former is intentionally misconstruing a statement to fuel righteous indignation. But the topic of whether America is too sexist and shitty to elect a woman president has been an integral part of the ongoing postmortem of 2016. In a 2017 piece titled “Hillary Clinton lost because of sexism,” CNN commentator Mel Robbins wrote that she believed “it was overt sexism (and often misogyny) that in the end kept the presidency from the first female major-party presidential candidate.” As we enter the second act of our National Nightmare, it remains a relevant concern, one that seems not only natural, but necessary, to raise in a closed-door discussion between the two.
Prior to the release of Warren’s statement, CNN published a story on Warren and Sanders’ 2018 meeting, in which four people—two of whom Warren spoke with after the meeting, and two people “familiar” with the meeting—confirmed that Sanders asserted that he did not believe a woman could win. According to the story, Sanders at the time “expressed frustration at what he saw as a growing focus among Democrats on identity politics, according to one of the people familiar with the conversation. Warren told Sanders she disagreed with his assessment that a woman could not win, three of the four sources said.”
In a statement to CNN, Sanders said his words were mischaracterized:
“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,” Sanders said. “It’s sad that, three weeks before the Iowa caucus and a year after that private conversation, staff who weren’t in the room are lying about what happened. What I did say that night was that Donald Trump is a sexist, a racist and a liar who would weaponize whatever he could. Do I believe a woman can win in 2020? Of course! After all, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 3 million votes in 2016.”