Two days after the Iowa Democratic caucus in which Hillary Clinton beat Bernie Sanders by a razor-thin margin, the candidates were shaking hands and kissing babies in the run-up to the New Hampshire primary, but the real action was on Twitter.
The two rivals for the Democratic Party’s 2016 presidential nomination—or, rather, their social-media teams—spent much of the day sniping at each other on the microblogging service about which of them was a true progressive.
It began when MSNBC political correspondent Kasie Hunt asked the Vermont independent senator if he considered the former secretary of state a “progressive.”
Clinton—well, technically, her web team—took offense to this remark and used the opportunity to subtly highlight the narrative of the former New York senator as a seasoned Beltway veteran who knows how to pull the levers of power to accomplish complex policy goals—in contrast to her opponent, whose idealism, they suggested, isn’t tempered by practicality.
A 40-year record of progressive results—boiled down to "some days." https://t.co/ljJvAp6vFT— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) February 3, 2016
Sanders’s people fired back in an attempt to maintain the dominant frame of the race—Sanders as a progressive alternative to Clinton.
Incidentally, liberals used to call themselves “liberals” instead of “progressives,” but then they started using “progressive” because the word “liberal” no longer polled well due to a decades-long campaign by conservatives to turn it into a pejorative.
Sanders’s team then posted the video describing Clinton’s progressivism as intermittent at best.
“I think, frankly, it is very hard to be a real progressive and to take on the establishment in a way that, I think, it has to be taken [on], when you become dependent as she has, through her super PAC and other ways, on Wall Street and drug company money,” he said.
The senator’s campaign then followed up with fierce attacks on Clinton’s record.
You can be a moderate. You can be a progressive. But you cannot be a moderate and a progressive.— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) February 3, 2016
Most progressives that I know don't raise millions of dollars from Wall Street.— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) February 3, 2016
Most progressives I know are firm from day 1 in opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. They didn't have to think about it a whole lot.— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) February 3, 2016
Most progressives that I know were opposed to the Keystone pipeline from day one. Honestly, it wasn’t that complicated.— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) February 3, 2016
Most progressives I know were against the war in Iraq. One of the worst foreign policy blunders in the history of the United States.— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) February 3, 2016
Clinton’s people, keen to pick up as much liberal support as possible, fired back with a list of her progressive accomplishments over the years, then posted a video of Clinton listing even more of those accomplishments.
"Some days" we're pretty proud of. pic.twitter.com/LVwHJx1wGL— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) February 3, 2016
The former secretary of state’s web team then highlighted Sanders’s relatively pro-gun voting record, at least in comparison to her own, among other facts intended to worry the left-leaning Democratic base while positioning Clinton as above the fray of ideological purity.
1) This shouldn't be a debate about who gets to define "progressive"—it should be about who will get real results for American families.— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) February 3, 2016
3) An important part of being a progressive is making progress. From health care to fighting inequality, Hillary's record speaks for itself.— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) February 3, 2016
Clinton’s team then capped it off by throwing some A+ passive-aggressive shade at Sanders.
4) Hillary's not running to make a point—she's running to make a difference. She'll keep doing that. Please feel free to keep tweeting.— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) February 3, 2016
In response, Sanders’s team tweeted its own list of not-especially-progressive things that Clinton had done over the years.
Some other days… pic.twitter.com/7SjQdgiiQr— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) February 3, 2016
So, who won the Great Political Twitter Battle Of The Wednesday Before The 2016 New Hampshire Primary? The answer isn’t clear.
Clinton’s tweets garnered a combined total of somewhere in the neighborhood of 19,000 favorites and retweets, whereas Sanders’s messages received more than 64,000 favorites and retweets.
So in one sense, Sanders won. But, in a larger sense, America won, because the country finally got a news story about a political Twitter fight that didn’t involve Donald Trump.
Photo via Gage Skidmore/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Max Fleishman