Bernie Sanders’s long feud with Goldman Sachs’s former CEO is now part of his campaign

Bernie Sanders and Lloyd BlankfeinJavier Zarracina/Vox; Photos: Getty Images

It’s Bernie vs. Blankfein.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has made no secret of his disdain for the big banks and the “millionaires and billionaires” who run them — so of course it makes sense for him to be feuding on Twitter with the former CEO of Goldman Sachs.

Lloyd Blankfein traded barbs with Sanders after the senator added Blankfein to his “anti-endorsements list,” a sort of who’s who of powerful people who have criticized Sanders. The list includes JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, billionaire hedge fund manager Leon Cooperman, and Disney CEO Bob Iger. Most of the people on the list have largely ignored Sanders’s call-out, but not Blankfein. The former bank executive, who retired from Goldman in 2018, has developed a penchant for tweeting in recent years. And so he decided to fire back.

What resulted was a somewhat awkward Brooklynite vs. Brooklynite fight, with Blankfein making some weird jokes about how they’re both “two self-made millionaires from Brooklyn,” while Sanders criticized Goldman’s financial crisis bailout and Blankfein’s stance on entitlements.

Bernie vs. Blankfein is a battle that’s been going on for years; this latest dustup is just the most recent development.

In a lot of ways, the clash makes perfect sense: Blankfein, who reportedly attained billionaire status in 2015, represents the so-called “billionaire class” Sanders repudiates, and Goldman Sachs in American culture has come to be seen as emblematic of the greedy big banks. (A 2009 Matt Taibi Rolling Stone article described Goldman as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of its humanity.”) Sanders in 2016 regularly criticized Hillary Clinton over her paid speeches at Goldman.

Blankfein is also a registered Democrat, but a centrist one. In 2012, he referred to himself as a “Rockefeller Republican” and “conservative on fiscal issues and more liberal on social issues.” In other words, he’s probably not so into Sanders’s take on free public college and Medicare-for-all.

And Blankfein appears to enjoy the fight. “I doubt Lloyd will run out of quips, he’s got an endless supply,” said Jake Siewert, head of corporate communications at Goldman. The same goes for Sanders.

Bernie made an anti-endorsement list, and Lloyd took the bait

As mentioned, this latest clash started with Sanders’s anti-endorsement list, released by his campaign earlier this month. Sanders references a quote from Franklin Delano Roosevelt — “I ask you to judge me by the enemies I have made” — to make the point that it’s a good thing these people don’t like him. “I am proud to announce the modern-day oligarchs who oppose our movement,” the site with the list reads.

Along with the anti-endorsement website, Sanders also tweeted out a bunch of figures and organizations that made the list.

FDR said “Judge me by the enemies I have made.” We agree, and we are proud to say that @LloydBlankfein, the former CEO of Goldman Sachs, is not supporting our campaign.

— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) July 10, 2019

Haim Saban is used to buying elections for his candidates. He and other billionaires oppose our campaign because they know they can’t buy us. We don’t want their money.

— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) July 10, 2019

Those tweets weren’t what Blankfein picked up on; instead, he appears to have seen a tweet from Fortune about the list and responded to that. “Don’t know why Sen. Sanders picks on a retiree like me. I think he’s always looked down on me because he grew up in a fancier neighborhood in Brooklyn,” he wrote.

And from there, the back-and-forth began.

Actually, my concern has to do with the fact that you had no problem getting bailed out by working Americans, while you’ve been picking on them by advocating for cutting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) July 12, 2019

Didn’t know I was against all those necessary and well-established social programs. Actually, I think we have more in common than you think…..two self-made millionaires from Brooklyn who lean a bit to the left!

— Lloyd Blankfein (@lloydblankfein) July 12, 2019

Sanders focused on the 2007-’08 financial crisis and the $700 billion bailout Goldman and other banks got a share of while millions of ordinary Americans lost their homes and life savings. He claimed that Blankfein “lectured Congress” to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid and raise the retirement age.

Lloyd Blankfein owned not one but TWO mansions in the Hamptons.

How? Goldman Sachs lying to investors and profiting from millions of Americans losing their homes in an “unbelievable fraud.”

— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) July 12, 2019

When Blankfein denied that, Sanders shot back with a six-second video of him in an interview saying that entitlements “have to be slowed down and contained” because the government can’t afford them. And Blankfein, yet again, responded, saying that supporting “slowing expansion of entitlements in a dismal economy” didn’t mean he wanted to get rid of programs altogether. Bernie appears to have stopped responding.

Sry, didn’t think slowing expansion of entitlements in a dismal economy meant I was for getting rid of those programs. I support those programs and GDP growth!

— Lloyd Blankfein (@lloydblankfein) July 12, 2019

Blankfein’s comments were from a 2012 interview with CBS News amid concerns about deficits and potential economic pain from the “fiscal cliff.” Here’s the entirety of what was said by Blankfein and journalist Scott Pelley:

BLANKFEIN: You’re going to have to undoubtedly do something to lower people’s expectations — the entitlements and what people think that they’re going to get, because it’s not going to — they’re not going to get it.

PELLEY: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid?

BLANKFEIN: You can look at history of these things, and Social Security wasn’t devised to be a system that supported you for a 30-year retirement after a 25-year career. … So there will be things that, you know, the retirement age has to be changed, maybe some of the benefits have to be affected, maybe some of the inflation adjustments have to be revised. But in general, entitlements have to be slowed down and contained.

PELLEY: Because we can’t afford them going forward?

BLANKFEIN: Because we can’t afford them.

To be fair, in the same interview, Blankfein said the government should raise taxes on the wealthy.

It’s not the first time Sanders and Blankfein have had a public argument — including over the same exact thing

Sanders picked up on this CBS interview when it happened in 2012, mentioning Blankfein in a speech on the Senate floor that same year. “Arrogance, I think, has no end,” he said at the time.

After that, the two stayed on one another’s radar.

On the 2016 campaign trail, Sanders held up Blankfein as an example of Wall Street greed. In a January 2016 interview with Bloomberg, Sanders took a swipe at Blankfein for “making huge amounts of money after destroying the economy,” noting his then recently attained billionaire status.

The next month, Blankfein — who in the general election went on to back Hillary Clinton — hit back in an interview on CNBC. “To personalize it, it has the potential to be a dangerous moment, not just for Wall Street, not just for the people are particularly targeted but for anybody who is a little bit out of line,” he said.

Blankfein appears to have gotten over qualms about personalizing the dispute. In February, he called out Sanders over his proposed bill with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to rein in corporate stock buybacks.

A company used to be encouraged to return money to shareholders when it couldn’t reinvest in itself for a good return. The money doesn’t vanish, it gets reinvested in higher growth businesses that boost the economy and jobs. Is that bad?

— Lloyd Blankfein (@lloydblankfein) February 5, 2019

Trump actually inspired Blankfein’s Twitter use

Blankfein opened up a Twitter account in 2011 but didn’t tweet from it until 2017 — after something Trump did, not Sanders. His first tweet came in reaction to the president’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.

Today’s decision is a setback for the environment and for the U.S.’s leadership position in the world. #ParisAgreement

— Lloyd Blankfein (@lloydblankfein) June 1, 2017

In a subsequent interview with CNBC’s Jim Cramer, Blankfein explained his decision to post the tweet, and it ties back to the 2007-’08 financial crisis and criticisms of Goldman from Sanders and others.

“In the financial crisis, nobody knew what Goldman Sachs did, the value we create, what we do in the communities,” Blankfein said. “And I said if this ever happens again, I’m not going to allow there to be a vacuum about what we’re like. We’re going to have to communicate to the world what we do.”

Sanders likely would not agree that Goldman’s real problem was in communications — at least not the PR kind. Its financial trading, some of which involved misleading investors, helped create the bubble that brought on the crisis. Blankfein did make an attempt to massage Goldman’s public image, saying in a 2009 interview that banks have a social purpose and do “God’s work.”

Since his first tweet, Blankfein has taken to Twitter on multiple occasions to weigh in on various issues of the day, including immigration, Brexit, and US politics. He also makes some good — and sometimes not so good — jokes.

Just landed from China, trying to catch up…. How did “infrastructure week” go?

— Lloyd Blankfein (@lloydblankfein) June 9, 2017

On the bright side, if DeB gets elected prez, we New Yorkers will lose his undivided attention a year ahead of schedule.

— Lloyd Blankfein (@lloydblankfein) May 16, 2019

Uh-oh. Can another round of tariffs be far behind?

— Lloyd Blankfein (@lloydblankfein) July 9, 2019

Sanders doesn’t want in on Blankfein’s jokes

Blankfein and Sanders in their latest exchange kept the tone a little mocking and light, but the division is serious: Sanders has staked his political career on the repudiation of corporate greed and moneyed interests, and Blankfein and Goldman are the perfect foil for him.

Among all the big banks, Goldman in American culture is perceived as the most evil. That 2009 Rolling Stone article from Matt Taibbi blamed Goldman for engineering “every major market manipulation since the Great Depression” and painted a dark picture of the bank in vivid detail:

The first thing you need to know about Goldman Sachs is that it’s everywhere. The world’s most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money. In fact, the history of the recent financial crisis, which doubles as a history of the rapid decline and fall of the suddenly swindled dry American empire, reads like a Who’s Who of Goldman Sachs graduates.

Goldman has been bestowed the nickname of “Government Sachs” because of the revolving door between it and government. Just in the Trump administration, there have been multiple prominent Goldman alum — Steve Bannon, Steven Mnuchin, Gary Cohn — though just Treasury Secretary Mnuchin remains. The phenomenon is not limited to Republican administrations, it’s common in Democratic ones, too. Blankfein spent much of his career at the mega-bank and was CEO for more than a decade, including during the crisis, and he is inextricably linked to Goldman and its reputation.

Goldman and Blankfein are a good way for Sanders to highlight his anti-Wall Street message and reiterate his message that for years, the wealthiest Americans and most powerful corporations have thrived at the expense of the working class. The image of Sanders’s “movement” against one of the most powerful banks in the world is a powerful one, and he knows it. And Blankfein appears happy to play along.

Tim Ryan Williams contributed to this article.

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