The gloves have been off between the two frontrunners in the nascent Democratic presidential primary since the day former Vice President Joe Biden announced his campaign, and according to CNN, that choice was made by one Sen. Bernie Sanders.
CNN reports that the decision by the Sanders campaign to immediately engage with Biden—beginning by drawing a contrast between where they get their money, and continuing with Sanders running to Biden’s left on trade and criticizing Biden’s comments that China is “not competition for us”—came from Bernie himself. “This was driven by Sen. Sanders himself,” Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir said in an interview. “He said, ‘Why the heck should I wait to draw contrast between the two of us? That is what a primary is all about.’”
Biden hasn’t done much responding to Sanders, although during a campaign in Iowa, he alluded to it. “I’m going to have plenty of time to respond to that,” he said, according to the Des Moines Register. “I’m not going to get into debates with my colleagues here. We’ll have plenty of time on the stage. I’m proud of my record.”
Many, undoubtedly, will kvetch about party unity, even though the first primary is still months away. But Sanders is exactly right here. This, after all, is what the primary is for—to find out who best represents the concerns and goals of the Democratic electorate. It was an important thing to do in 2016, when there was an already-anointed candidate, and it’s especially important now that there’s more than 20 people seeking the Democratic nomination. The party is in the middle of its first real war of ideas in decades, and that should be allowed to play out unimpeded.
If you are the kind of person who wants to just make sure everyone gets along, however, there’s something for you, too; Shakir told CNN that Sanders apparently stressed that he “likes Joe, we are friends,” and wanted to differentiate himself from Biden only on policy.
That sentiment was backed up by a tweet Sanders sent this morning thanking Biden for his support to end the U.S.’s backing of the Saudi war in Yemen, an issue which has defined Sanders’ Senate work since the end of his first presidential run.
You truly couldn’t find two politicians aligned with the same party who are more diametrically opposed to each other than Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, but I suppose there’s someone out there—somewhere—who thinks this is cool.