Bernie Sanders says his controversial tweet wasn’t about Elizabeth Warren

"Elizabeth is a friend of mine and we're going to run, I hope, what are simply issue-oriented campaigns."

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 17:  Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) addresses the Moral Action Congress of the Poor People's Campaign June 17, 2019 at Trinity Washington University in Washington, DC. The Campaign held the event to focus on issues like voting rights, health care, housing, equitable education, indigenous sovereignty, living wage jobs and the right to join a union, clean air and water, and an end to gun proliferation and war mongering and other issues in our moral agenda.   (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Sen. Bernie Sanders addresses the Moral Action Congress of the Poor People's Campaign on Monday in Washington, D.C. –Alex Wong/Getty Images

Sen. Bernie Sanders raised some eyebrows on social media Wednesday with a tweet some perceived as a dig at his fellow Democratic presidential candidate — and “friend” — Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

In response to a Politico article about how some moderate Democrats were warming to Warren — despite their ideological differences with the liberal Massachusetts senator — as a compromise to Sanders, the Vermont senator and self-described democratic socialist tweeted that “the cat is out of the bag. The corporate wing of the Democratic Party is publicly ‘anybody but Bernie.'”

“They know our progressive agenda of Medicare for All, breaking up big banks, taking on drug companies and raising wages is the real threat to the billionaire class,” he wrote.

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The tweet was perceived by some as a surprising shot at Warren, a longtime progressive ally of Sanders, at a time when recent polls show her gaining ground in the Democratic primary — particularly among more liberal voters and seemingly at his expense. It also subsequently drew criticism from some on the left.

But Sanders himself says the tweet wasn’t a dig, at least not at Warren.

“That tweet was not about Elizabeth Warren at all,” he told CNN’s Chris Cuomo in an interview Wednesday night. “Not at all. Elizabeth is a friend of mine and we’re going to run, I hope, what are simply issue-oriented campaigns.”

Instead, Sanders said the tweet was a “very strong statement” about the self-described “center-left” think tank Third Way, who he called a “Wall Street-funded group” that had been willing to support any Democrat but him. Additionally, Sanders questioned the centrist group’s allegiances in the 2020 general election if he were the nominee.

“I don’t mind taking on all of corporate America and Trump and the Republican Party, but I have a question for Third Way,” Sanders said. “And that is if I win the Democratic nomination — I think we got a good shot at that — who are they going to support? Are they going to support Donald Trump? Or are they going to support Bernie Sanders?”

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Sanders noted that he has committed to strongly supporting the Democratic nominee in 2020 to beat Trump. Third Way confirmed Wednesday that they “unequivocally” would as well, even if the nominee was Sanders.

Asked about why Warren was “catching up to [him] in polls,” Sanders said his campaign is running “against a lot of problems,” but reiterated that he thinks his campaign has the best chance against Trump.

“I think that there are a certain number of people who would like to see a woman elected,” Sanders told Cuomo. “I understand that. There are people who would like to see somebody who is younger, and I understand that also. There are a lot of factors out there. Elizabeth is a friend of mine. I think she’s running a good campaign. But at the end of the day, Chris, whether it’s Biden or Warren — Elizabeth Warren — or anybody else, what I believe is that, in fact, I am the strongest candidate to defeat Donald Trump and I think some of the polling shows that.”

Recent hypothetical 2020 general election polls have generally shown Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden outperforming their Democratic primary rivals in potential match-ups against Trump. Polling experts, however, note that such polls have very little predictive value nearly a year-and-a-half before a general election.