It took 45 minutes of milquetoast Q&A before the moderators of Tuesday’s Democratic debate addressed the elephant onstage: a recent report that Bernie Sanders once told Elizabeth Warren he did not believe a woman could win the presidency. Sanders was quick to label the allegation “ludicrous”; hours later, Warren maintained in a statement that it happened, at least in some form. And when the alleged exchange came up on Tuesday, Warren was unequivocal: “Of course a woman can be president.”
For his part, Sanders agreed, denying the comment again and reiterating a number of the defenses he’d already made:
As a matter of fact, I didn’t say it. And I don’t want to waste a whole lot of time on this because this is what Donald Trump, and maybe some of the media, want. Anybody who knows me knows that it’s incomprehensible that I would think that a woman cannot be president of the United States. Go to YouTube today: There’s a video of me 30 years ago, talking about how a woman could become president of the United States. In 2015, I deferred — in fact — to Sen. Warren. There was a movement to draft Sen. Warren for president, and I said, ‘You know what? Stay back.’ Sen. Warren decided not to run, and I did. I did run afterwards.
He also repeated a point he had made in his original statement to CNN: that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 3 million votes. “How could anybody in a million years not believe that a woman could become president of the United States?” he asked.
Warren, meanwhile, suggested that Sanders had indeed made insinuations about a woman candidate’s viability in 2020, and that she “disagreed” with him when he did. Then she dropped a comment that garnered the biggest applause of the night:
Bernie is my friend and I am not here to try to fight with Bernie, but look, this question about whether or not a woman can be president has been raised and it’s time to attack it head-on. And I think the best way to talk about who can win is by looking at everyone’s winning record.
So, can a woman beat Donald Trump? Look at the men on this stage: collectively they have lost 10 elections. The only people on this stage who have won every single election that they’ve been in are the women, Amy [Klobuchar] and me. And the only person on this stage who has beaten an incumbent Republican anytime in the past 30 years is me.
She went on to emphasize the need for a candidate who will “excite all parts of the Democratic party,” without taking any voters for granted. Sanders — who did defeat a Republican incumbent in 1990, or 29 years ago and change if you want to be exact about it — then bickered with Warren over the math, concluding the first and quite possibly only exciting moment of the evening.