Cory Booker Derides Warren’s ‘Wine Cave’ Attack on Mayor Pete: Need to Be Careful About ‘Tearing Each Other Down’
New Jersey Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker says he didn’t watch Thursday night’s debate, but he did hear about “wine caves,” and he wasn’t happy about it.
On Friday morning’s edition of New Day, anchor John Berman asked Senator Booker if he had watched Thursday night’s Politico/PBS Newshour Democratic presidential debate, and if so, what he thought about it.
“I didn’t watch the debate, I was actually making calls to Iowa voters last night,” Booker said, adding that he “heard a lot of frustration from folks that there was more talk about wine caves than there were about gun violence or reproductive rights.”
“We’ve really got to be careful as a party about tearing each other down at a time where we see what’s going on in Washington, and we need to unite, frankly, bring our party together so we can bring a real fight to beat Donald Trump and push Mcconnell back to the backbenches,” Booker added.
Senator Booker was referring to a pitched battle that occurred Thursday night between Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg over the issue of fundraising.
After an extended riff by Warren on large political contributions, Buttigieg responded with a familiar argument, that “This is our only chance to defeat Donald Trump. And we shouldn’t try to do it with one hand tied behind our back.”
Earlier this year, Warren herself described swearing off wealthy donors as “unilateral disarmament” and a recipe for defeat.
Warren responded to Buttigieg by attacking him for holding “a fundraiser that was held in a wine cave full of crystals and served $900-a-bottle wine,” and said that “Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president of the United States.”
Buttigieg countered by saying “if you can’t say no to a donor, then you have no business running for office in the first place,” pointing out that Warren funded her presidential campaign with large donations she took during her Senate reelection bid, and that Warren, herself, is a multi-millionaire whose generosity he would welcome.
Senator Amy Klobuchar then swooped in to say “I did not come here to listen to this argument,” and quipped “I have never even been to a wine cave. I’ve been to the wind cave in South Dakota, which I suggest you go to.”
Whatever you think of the merits, the “wine cave” moment stood out, and it represents a big bet for Warren. As Buttigieg put it, she has established a “purity test” that doesn’t just credit politicians who forswear certain methods of fundraising as resisting the corrosive influence of big money, but labels everyone who fails to do so as “corrupt.”
And Warren went a step further Thursday night, sending out a statement during the debate conflating fundraising impurity with the misconduct that has resulted in President Donald Trump’s impeachment.
The potential political reward for Warren is to differentiate herself from other leading candidates like the surging Buttigieg and frontrunner Joe Biden, a reward that’s difficult to predict. Wine cave fundraising isn’t typically listed among the issues voters care about, but Warren’s argument is that it’s the key to every issue that voters care about.
Since Warren began openly feuding with Buttigieg over this and other transparency issues about two weeks ago, she has ticked up modestly in the RCP polling average, while Buttigieg has lost almost three points off of his national average, blunting the bounce he got after the last debate. That’s not necessarily due to this issue, but the timing is compelling.
Therein lies the risk that Booker identifies for the Democrats, that not only is very little gained from this line of attack, it also might embitter voters toward other candidates who fail the test. And as Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders demonstrated Thursday night, that risk extends to Warren.
Seconds after Warren and Pete finished up, Sanders swooped in to boast that he is “the only candidate up here that doesn’t have any billionaire contributions,” which includes Warren. Her current presidential campaign, not her old pre-pledge Senate campaign, has accepted donations at or near the $2800 individual contribution limit from at least six billionaires.
The moral of that story is there’s always a bigger fish, and there’s always a purer candidate, but even by Warren’s narrower standards, she’s vulnerable to her own attack. Until very recently, Warren was doing the very same things she accuses others of being “corrupt” for doing, right down to the fancy wine tastings and the paid-for selfies.
Warren has defended her past practices by noting that it’s unfair to criticize someone for not doing everything possible all at once, which is an excellent argument if you want to convince people that you are moving in the right direction, but a riskier one if you’re labeling your entire party — and your former self — as corrupt wine-swilling sellouts.
Upstart candidate Andrew Yang may have had the most salient observation of the night on this topic when he noted that “Fewer than 5 percent of Americans donate to political campaigns.”
The point — aside from the fact that no matter how “pure” your fundraising style, political campaigns are funded by a very narrow slice of people with their own interests — is that this argument over donations is falling on the ears of 95 percent of the country that doesn’t have a voice in the wine caves or the selfie lines. That could be a clue as to how this will resonate with them.
Watch the clip above via CNN.
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