Up until now, the 2020 Democratic presidential primary has, with minor exceptions, mostly featured candidates promoting a “positive vision” about their own campaigns without denigrating any of the other people running. But that had to end sometime, and it’s starting to seem like that time is now.
Wednesday featured two notable Dem-on-Dem scraps involving five different presidential candidates. They were both significant for what they portend about the race ahead.
The first involved Cory Booker and Bill de Blasio attacking Joe Biden for his continued habit of lavishing praise on some of the most abominable segregationist politicians in American history. On Tuesday night, Biden once again waxed nostalgic about his close working relationship in the 1970s with James Eastland, the mega-racist who was then a senator from Mississippi. This is objectively disgusting, and Booker and de Blasio both had something to say about it.
Booker and de Blasio are two lower-tier candidates trying to punch their way up the ladder, but that doesn’t make their comments any less true. It’s unclear whether Biden will apologize for any of this, given that his 2020 pitch is so resolutely focused on a return to his version of “normalcy.” (Biden even told a crowd of rich people on Tuesday that “nothing would fundamentally change” for them if he was president, according to HuffPost.) But the fight only underscores how much of a dispiriting anachronism Biden is, and how much baggage he’s carrying around from his eternity in Washington.
Possibly even more significant was this tweet from Bernie Sanders on Wednesday.
Sanders was tweeting about a story in Politico which featured a boatload of centrist Democrats praising Elizabeth Warren and saying that they could live with her as a way to prevent Sanders from getting power. (“People are taking a second look at her and saying, ‘Hmm. Some of her policies are good. Maybe she isn’t like Bernie,’” one such ghoul told the site.)
It has felt clear for a while that the bitterest, most toxic fight in the Democratic primary could turn out to be the one between Sanders and Warren. They are swimming in very overlapping political pools, and one of them is going to have to knock the other out of the race. It is not going to be pretty, and it will likely tear a good portion of the internet apart, but there’s no way around it. Sanders’ tweet—and, more importantly, his framing of himself as the one true threat to the establishment—was relatively mild, but it is an obvious taste of what is to come.
Taken together, this all shows that we are in a new, uglier phase of the 2020 campaign. It’s also a necessary one. After all, there can only be one winner. And given that next week will see the first primary debates, when the candidates will be forced to face each other head-on, it’s likely that there’s no going back.