When Sen. Bernie Sanders endorsed Cenk Uygur, the co-founder of left-wing video site The Young Turks and the Platonic ideal of a Bernie Bro, in the packed race to replace former Rep. Katie Hill in Congress, he presumably didn’t expect that the endorsement would be criticized, disavowed, and finally retracted within the course of a single day.
But after Sanders gave his imprimatur to a candidate who once said that his inability to get laid in Miami meant that “the genes of women are flawed” and declared that if he were a benevolent global dictator, he would legalize bestiality, Uygur’s campaign announced that in the face of growing criticism against Sanders, he would refuse all endorsements going forward—and Sanders, in response and under pressure, withdrew his endorsement entirely.
“As I said yesterday, Cenk has been a longtime fighter against the corrupt forces in our politics,” Sanders said in a statement. “However, our movement is bigger than any one person. I hear my grassroots supporters who were frustrated and understand their concerns. Cenk today said he is rejecting all endorsements for his campaign, and I retract my endorsement.”
In a statement released on Friday afternoon, released minutes before Sanders withdrew his endorsement, Uygur blamed “corporations, lobbyists, and special interest groups” for criticizing Sanders’ endorsement, and said he wouldn’t allow his past comments to hurt Sanders. “That’s why I have decided that I will not be accepting any endorsements… The only endorsements I'll be accepting going forward is that of the voters.”
Sanders’ endorsement of Uygur was a shock to California Democrats already fearful that Uygur’s long history of ugly comments about women, as well as racial and sexual minority groups—coupled with his strong popularity among the internet left—could thwart their plans to keep California’s 25th congressional district in Democratic hands.
“I’m endorsing Cenk because I know he will serve ordinary people, not powerful special interests,” Sanders said on Thursday, in a statement released with much fanfare by Uygur’s campaign. “He is a voice that we desperately need in Congress and will be a great representative for CA-25 and the country.”
Beyond a single swing district, the endorsement almost immediately began causing trouble for Sanders, who is courting the same California progressive organizers and organizations that have condemned Uygur’s candidacy.
“California Women's List is disappointed in Senator Sanders’ endorsement of Cenk Uygur, a candidate who has repeatedly used misogynistic, racist, and homophobic language,” Emily Zahn, board president of California Women’s List, which fundraises for female Democratic candidates across the state, told The Daily Beast. “This endorsement appears to go against Senator Sanders' platform and role as a leader in the progressive movement.”
“If Bernie Sanders is a real progressive—he will disavow Cenk Uygur immediately,” the National Organization for Women’s Hollywood chapter told The Daily Beast in a statement, calling Uygur’s past comments about women “both disturbing and disqualifying.”
“If Bernie Sanders expects to get the support of women in his campaign for the White House in 2020, he needs to start prioritizing them in his race by taking back his endorsement of known misogynist Cenk Uygur.”
In his statement supporting Uygur’s campaign to replace Hill—who was forced to resign after her ex-husband leaked private photographs of her and accused her of multiple affairs with subordinates —Sanders cited Uygur’s “strong support” for Medicare for All as a decisive factor in endorsing him.
But since Uygur announced that he would join the crowded field—under California’s “jungle primary,” Uygur will face off against two other Democrats and three Republicans in the special election in March—other progressives have largely focused on the laundry list of inflammatory comments that he has made over the course of his career as a blogger, vlogger, and left-wing radio host.
Among those remarks, many of which were initially uncovered by The Wrap, include complaints in 2000 that the women of Miami didn’t want to sleep with him because “obviously, the genes of women are flawed. They are poorly designed creatures who do not want to have sex nearly as often as needed for the human race to get along peaceably and fruitfully.”
Under an entry outlining the supposed “Rules of Dating,” Uygur said that “if I haven’t felt your tits” by the third date, “things are not about to last much longer. In fact, if you don’t get back on track by the fourth date, you’re done.”
Another blog entry, posted in 2004 by The Young Turks senior vice president of operations David Koller, described a road trip with Uygur in which Koller describes three underage teenage girls he encountered as “whores in training.”
“In one small Pennsylvania town we stopped for gas, and while Cenk filled up I went to talk to these three girls who were walking down the road nearby. Turns out they were three teenage girls, whores in training, literally looking for boys to pick them up,” Koller wrote. “They were around 14-16 and in a few more years will be pretty damn good looking.”
Uygur has condemned his past remarks, saying that they were written when he was a young conservative and “do not reflect who I am today.”
“The announcement of my candidacy has again brought up remarks I made over the years that do not reflect who I am today or what I believe,” Uygur said in a statement. “Those comments were and are offensive and ignorant. I deeply regret making them and I apologize for the pain they have caused.”
But some of Uygur’s most bizarre remarks came long after he became an icon of the internet left. In a November 2016 Young Turks segment, Uygur defended the Harvard University soccer team for creating a list rating female students by their looks; in a segment three years earlier, Uygur himself said that men should rank women on a 1-10 scale based on how willing they would be to allow them to perform oral sex. In a 2012 discussion about incest porn, Uygur said that if he were single, he’d “do it.” One year later, he said that if he were a global dictator, he would legalize having sex with animals.
Uygur’s disavowal of any endorsements many more questions than answers. Asked by The Daily Beast whether the campaign would commit to not having surrogates or introductory speakers at events, or whether it would cooperate with local unions or newspaper editorial boards seeking interviews and event participation ahead of a possible endorsement, a campaign official said that “of course we will continue to work with our progressive allies in other ways and cooperate with editorial boards and local organizations.”
At least 13 progressive organizations in the state have condemned Uygur’s past comments as sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, and generally gross. Many have even called on Uygur to drop out of the race, citing his potential to hand the northern Los Angeles County district over to the Republican Party.
Until Sanders’ statement on Friday afternoon, citing Uygur’s bizarre disavowal as partial justification for reversing his endorsement, his campaign remained mum on Uygur’s past statements, and Sanders pointedly did not comment on those comments when he withdrew his endorsement. A campaign spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment from The Daily Beast about Uygur’s remarks, or about the criticism of local progressive organizations who see his endorsement as co-signing Uygur’s old remarks. Other high-profile women who have endorsed Sanders’ campaign, including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib, did not respond to requests for comment about the endorsement either.
–with reporting by Will Sommer