Until fairly recently, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have taken great pains to be congenial. In their initial appearances during election season, they seemed to be trying to outdo one another in expressions of “deep respect.” But coming out of a near-tie in the Iowa caucuses and an anticipated win for Sanders in New Hampshire tonight, the Democratic candidates’ rivalry has sharpened.
A passive-aggressive Twitter argument between the candidates, and an ongoing shouting match over who is a true progressive, crescendoed during the Democratic debate on Feb. 4. Clinton charged Sanders with running a negative campaign, contrary to his own promises, and called on him to end the “artful smear” that she has been bought by Wall Street. The audience cheered. Sanders scowled and shook his head. It was a gloves-off kind of moment. As Chris Hayes of MSNBC tweeted, “The intensity in the room during that last exchange was unreal.”
The open hostility of that moment was unexpected, especially so early in the debate. But it also felt overdue—not just because the candidates’ criticisms of each other have been building, but because in-fighting is already present among Democratic voters themselves.