Shakir responded, “I hate engaging, but this is ridiculous. Trump’s gassing protesters, but I’m the real enemy. For what? Trying with every fiber of my being to get Bernie elected but coming in 2nd. And then trying to get the 1st place finisher to move in a progressive direction and defeat Trump.”
The rifts between Sanders’ staffers are not new. During the primary, Sirota and pollster Ben Tulchin clashed with Shakir and other top aides over how to defeat Biden. Sirota and Tulchin preferred a more aggressive approach, but Sanders, who has long opposed negative campaigning, declined to take much of their advice. Shakir, who some staffers described as non-confrontational, saw his role as executing Sanders’ vision and followed his boss’ lead.
After Sirota used the campaign’s newsletter in January to promote an op-ed by a Sanders surrogate about Biden’s “big corruption problem,” he was forbidden from traveling on the campaign trail outside of Washington, D.C.
Sirota, who did not provide a comment for the story, has since deleted his tweet about the task forces. Casca did not appear to be referring to Sanders’ vaunted email list of donors, which Sirota did not use for his newsletter, but rather to those who subscribed to the product on the campaign. Sirota, who also put out his own newsletter before he joined the 2020 campaign, told recipients when he started his new newsletter that “if you want to unsubscribe, just go to the bottom of this email and do that.”
Casca and Wong declined to comment.
Even Sanders’ closest adviser has become bothered by some of the recent attacks on the campaign. Jane Sanders, Bernie Sanders’ wife, thinks the infighting is counterproductive and inaccurate, especially as it has been directed at Shakir and Weaver, according to a person familiar with her thinking. She believes that if former staffers want to place blame, it should go toward the anti-Sanders PACs, mainstream media and candidates she thinks undermined Sanders, said the source, and that “if there is no recognition of those actions, no acknowledgment of their impact, and no accountability from those who took them, those mistakes will be repeated when the next progressive runs.”
Weaver sought to deescalate the situation Wednesday, saying, “Both [Casca and Sirota] were valued members of the team and they both made incredible contributions to the campaign and I would be pleased to work with either one of them again.” He also joked, referring to his comic book shop, “Anybody who’s familiar with Victory Comics knows I’m a nerd. So let me be clear to America: Nerds are not the enemy.”
In an interview, Shakir said it was unfair to characterize Sanders’ orbit as being in disarray because “you’re talking about a few isolated staff.”
He added, “I feel proud of the accomplishments of the campaign, and to the extent people want to give motives to what we’re trying to do, I reject it. We’ve been a great team, great effort. We have had disagreements on some things here and there, but [we were] all working hard for the same goal. And it’s just frustrating that there’s some folks out there who want to get attention off of criticisms.”
The timing of Shakir’s comments on social media is notable: Though he still advises Sanders, he said he has not been on the campaign payroll since mid-May.
“Now they don’t have Bernie Sanders telling them that they can’t do it so they’re just doing it more publicly,” another former staffer said of the heated words exchanged between 2020 aides on Twitter.
Staffers rushed to the defense of Shakir and Weaver on social media. Josh Orton, Sanders’ senior adviser, tweeted about Wong’s tweets, “Trump is macing peaceful protesters like a fascist and you name these guys as enemies? The people who did everything to elect a presidential candidate with the most aggressive crim justice plan in history? And you start a super PAC? I love you Winnie but…”
Bill Neidhardt, Sanders’ former Iowa deputy state director, wrote, “In what universe is Faiz the “enemy” here?? Let’s beat Trump, not each other.” Wong replied, “The social movement universe – a distinctly different universe than the one you belong too [sic].”
Wong’s allies also stood by her. Claire Sandberg, Sanders’ former national organizing director, said on Twitter, “Winnie is righteous and a true comrade. Not sure who needs to hear that.”
“The fact that during this movement for the left, this unprecedented time, that people who were on the campaign would call Faiz an enemy, it’s deeply frustrating because it’s not only this pointless infighting. But I also think it completely misses the point of where we fell short as a campaign,” Neidhardt told POLITICO. “Limiting the people who are ‘progressive enough’ is the exact opposite of the direction we should go in.”