Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg went at each other hard at tonight's debate, not over substantive policy difference but over who's donors were more pure and in the spirit of Democratic populism.
The "issue" here is that Buttigieg is drawing donations from wealthier donors for his candidacy. Over the weekend, Buttigieg held a fancy fundraiser at a wine hall in California. It has fired up a rift between the "eat the rich" populists like Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) and it came out of the blue when Warren was asked to weigh in on the age and sex of the candidates on the stage. (No, this response has nothing to do with the question she was asked, but that has how this debate has been going).
Without naming names, she complained about candidates raising money from big donors across the country. Buttigieg saw this—correctly—as an attack on his current cachet with wealthier, more centrist Democrats. He defended taking money from wealthy Democrats, or any supporters at all (including independents) because the important thing is that everybody come together to do what it takes to beat President Donald Trump. Warren wasn't having it.
"Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president of the United States," Warren replied.
But Buttigieg was prepared, first of all pointing out that he was the only candidate on stage who was neither a millionaire or billionaire and that Warren herself historically pursued the same kinds of donations that Buttigieg was doing so now.
"This is the problem with issuing purity tests you cannot yourself pass," Buttigieg shot back. Buttigieg quite accurately noted that taking money from wealthy Democratic supporters doesn't mean a campaign is going to be polluted or beholden to donors.
"Senator, your presidential campaign right now, as we speak, is funded in part by money you transferred, having raised it at those exact same big ticket fundraisers you now denounce. Did it corrupt you, senator?" Buttigieg asked.
Sanders weighed in to note that Biden had more billionaires donating to him than Buttigieg. Biden defended himself by saying his average donation contribution was $43.
The exchange is going to be a top moment from the debate because it represents a challenge to Warren's sincerity. And while it may not feel terribly substantial to onlookers who aren't especially connected to who the party selects as a nominee, it's definitely an indication that it's still up in the air how far to the left the eventual party candidate will be (both candidates' answers garnered significant applause). It also means that everybody is going to have to learn to spell and pronounce "Buttigieg."
Here's a partial clip:
Sen. Elizabeth Warren: "Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president of the United States."
— PBS NewsHour (@NewsHour) December 20, 2019