Even by the standards of Bernie Sanders’ fundraising juggernaut, Tuesday was a big day: He raised $1.7 million from more than 100,000 small-dollar donors, his biggest debate-day haul of the 2020 campaign.
Sanders’ debate performance wasn’t the driving force behind the outpouring of cash. Rather, it was largely a response to his recent tensions with long-time ally Elizabeth Warren — a show of support and defiance that provides a window into the loyalty and motivation of Sanders’ grassroots base.
The he-said-she-said dispute with Warren — who accused Sanders of privately telling her a woman couldn’t win the presidency, which he denied — has alienated many Democratic women, reviving memories of his bitter 2016 primary against Hillary Clinton.
Yet the moment is also serving to galvanize the Vermont senator’s legion of die-hard supporters, who are quick to seize on any perceived slight to his campaign and see a dirty trick perpetrated against him just as polls show him taking the lead in Iowa.
“The fire of that 2016 campaign forged an incredibly strong base of support for Sanders like steel,” said Neil Sroka, an activist with the progressive group Democracy for America, which is trying to broker a peace between the liberal favorites, worried that divided progressives will make it easier for establishment candidate Joe Biden to win.
“In that campaign in 2016, you had a lot of duplicity from Democratic insiders and we saw for better or worse in leaked emails from the party — concrete evidence — that insiders were against him,” Sroka said. “And that fuels them today.”