Anita Dunn, a senior adviser to former Vice President Joe Biden, faced a bevy of criticism after saying Sunday night that Sen. Bernie Sanders behaved like the "kind of protester who often shows up at campaign events" during the 11th Democratic presidential debate.
Similar versions of Dunn's remark from a post-debate call with journalists were reported by Janet Hook at the Los Angeles Times, Ken Thomas at the Wall Street Journal, and Natasha Korecki of Politico. Dunn said Biden dealt with the Vermont senator "graciously."
Biden sr. adv. Anita Dunn on post-debate call, "I think it’s fair to say that Vice President Biden showed up to a debate tonight and for two hours graciously dealt with the kind of protester who often shows up at campaign events on live television.”
— Ken Thomas (@KThomasDC) March 16, 2020
Sanders surrogates, political commentators, and some journalists charged that Dunn's comment exposed how Biden's supporters regard activists challenging the vice president's record as well as voters and politicians in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.
As Jeet Heer, national affairs correspondent at The Nation, put it: "The Biden people have nothing but contempt for the progressive wing of the party."
Columbia Law School student Alex Clavering drew a similar but broader conclusion, tweeting that "the Democratic Party has nothing but disdain for activists."
"When Democratic establishment figures spend a couple weeks condescendingly pretending to like and respect Sanders and his voters, remember what they really think of you."
—Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept
Dunn's comment also came in the wake of activists with various groups interrupting a Biden rally in Detroit last week to call out the former vice president for supporting the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and pressure him to fully embrace the Green New Deal. Biden said of the protesters, "The Bernie bros are here!"
In response to Dunn's comment Sunday, author and activist Naomi Klein, a Sanders surrogate, said: "Let this sink in. Understand that all of us in the Sanders campaign are seen as nothing but trespassers on their party property and they absolutely cannot wait to call the cops."
The Intercept co-founder Glenn Greenwald directed his response at Sanders' supporters, tweeting, "When Democratic establishment figures spend a couple weeks condescendingly pretending to like and respect Sanders and his voters, remember what they really think of you."
Ahead of the debate, a coalition of youth organizations urged the candidates to have "a serious discussion" about "the issues that face our generation," including income and racial inequality, immigration and migrant justice, education, gun violence, and the climate crisis. Entrance and exit polls from states that have held primaries and caucuses so far have indicated a generational divide among voters, with more young people behind Sanders and older Democrats backing Biden, the frontrunner.
Diane Russell, a former Democratic state representative and gubernatorial candidate in Maine, warned in response to Dunn's remark that "alienating... young voters who overwhelmingly support Bernie is a terrible idea, and detracts from an otherwise healthy debate."
Ryan Grim, The Intercept's D.C. bureau chief, also suggested the comment could have consequences for the vice president at the ballot box. "What could motivate a Biden adviser to say something like this?" said Grim. "Shouldn't this level of contempt be kept to dinner parties and green rooms?"
Independent journalist Jordan Chariton on Monday highlighted Biden's inconsistent claims about being involved with civil rights activism:
Since Biden lied about being a civil rights protester, I guess he wouldn't know much about the history of U.S. protest forcing dramatic change https://t.co/k0oFzZUa2z
— Jordan (@JordanChariton) March 16, 2020
Others drew attention to Dunn's record. In addition to serving as acting White House communications director for part of former President Barack Obama's first year in office, Dunn was a consultant to Harvey Weinstein shortly before publication of the 2017 New York Times investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against the Hollywood mogul seen as a pivotal moment in the #MeToo movement. Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison earlier this month after being convicted of two felony sex crimes in New York.
Jeremy Scahill, another co-founder of The Intercept, tweeted that "'unity' means Harvey Weinstein's former advisor turned Biden campaign head tells you what to do and keeps you away from the adults."