Ed wrote about this already but I had to weigh in too. I’m flummoxed.
It was weird enough a few months ago when she popped off in an interview about Tulsi Gabbard, hinting that Tulsi might be some sort of Russian asset. Gabbard lunged at that criticism, recognizing that there’s no more sterling populist credential than to be attacked by Hillary Clinton. For weeks she crowed about how threatened the warmongering corporatist Clintonite establishment evidently was by her dovish grassroots progressivism. It was a smart play, potentially a way for her to get traction in the primary.
It didn’t work because the Fox-News-friendly Gabbard is a marginal candidate whom many leftists don’t trust, particularly after her subsequent punt on impeachment. Bernie Sanders is not a marginal candidate, and Hillary’s (obviously false) attack on him as someone whom “nobody likes” or wants to work with is destined to enrage his sympathizers. She’s handing him the same sort of rallying cry to motivate lefties that she handed to Gabbard except that the history between her and Bernie makes it that much more potent in his case. The DNC put on a thumb on the scale for her in 2016; Bernie campaigned for her anyway in the name of party unity; now here she is knifing him on the eve of the primaries, even going so far as to suggest that she might not endorse him against Trump.
What is she up to? Why do this? Why now?
In the doc, you’re brutally honest on Sanders: “He was in Congress for years. He had one senator support him. Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done. He was a career politician. It’s all just baloney and I feel so bad that people got sucked into it.” That assessment still hold?
Yes, it does.
If he gets the nomination, will you endorse and campaign for him?
I’m not going to go there yet. We’re still in a very vigorous primary season. I will say, however, that it’s not only him, it’s the culture around him. It’s his leadership team. It’s his prominent supporters. It’s his online Bernie Bros and their relentless attacks on lots of his competitors, particularly the women. And I really hope people are paying attention to that because it should be worrisome that he has permitted this culture — not only permitted, [he] seems to really be very much supporting it. And I don’t think we want to go down that road again where you campaign by insult and attack and maybe you try to get some distance from it, but you either don’t know what your campaign and supporters are doing or you’re just giving them a wink and you want them to go after Kamala [Harris] or after Elizabeth [Warren]. I think that that’s a pattern that people should take into account when they make their decisions.
That last paragraph reads a bit like the left-wing version of “basket of deplorables,” Ed noted in his post. Indeed.
Again: Why? Why risk turning the last two weeks before Iowa from a story about Bernie trying to defeat progressive Elizabeth Warren and likable centrist Joe Biden into Bernie trying to defeat the evil queen of the milquetoast Democratic establishment, an historically unpopular figure who somehow managed to fumble away a can’t-lose election against a game-show host? How many leftists in Iowa who were on the fence between Bernie and Warren will decide to back him now, having been reminded that Sanders is unpopular in Washington precisely because he won’t compromise his agenda by working with more wishy-washy Dems on weak legislation?
I mean, this is his entire pitch. “Washington loathes me,” he tells Democratic voters. Right, says Hillary! What?
I find myself reaching for theories that would justify her comments on strategic grounds. The Clintons are canny, seasoned operators (well, Bill is, at least). Surely it’s not a coincidence that Hillary is rolling a grenade into the primary at the eleventh hour. There’s a play here, some sort of bank-shot move she’s gamed out in which her comments damage Bernie’s chances of winning instead of improving them.
Uh, what is that play?
Presumably she thinks she’s helping Warren. She’s amplifying the recent accusation of sexism by Team Liz with her critique of the Berniebros’ attacks on women. It’s a green light from the most famous woman politician in America to women voters to hold that against Sanders. But again, by interjecting herself in the primary, she risks turning a difficult “Bernie or Warren?” decision for lefties into an easier “Bernie or Hillary?” call. (Hillary barely won the caucus in Iowa in 2016, remember, and lost the state to Trump. It’s not as if she’s phenomenally popular there.) Bernie sympathizers who already viewed Warren suspiciously for last week’s leak about their 2018 conversation may view her more suspiciously now, believing that Clinton is quietly working on her behalf. And it’s not as if Warren has been rising in the polls, tempting Hillary to chime in on her behalf at the last minute in hopes of maybe taking a little credit once Warren inevitably wins Iowa. She’s not the favorite there. Warren’s in the mix in the early states but her heyday in polling was in early October.
It’s not just Warren who’s at risk of a backfire either. Justice Democrats, the far-left PAC that helped get AOC into Congress, is using Clinton’s comments this morning to build a mailing list which it’ll use when primarying other establishment Dems:
Justice Democrats, the left-wing group that recruited Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to run for Congress, launches a petition calling on Hillary Clinton to back whoever the nominee is. pic.twitter.com/QAbv8kwSYu
— Holly Otterbein (@hollyotterbein) January 21, 2020
Even more centrist Dems like former Obama aide Tommy Vietor are mystified by Clinton’s move:
This is inexcusable. If Bernie wins the nomination, we all need to work our asses off to help him win. If someone else is the nominee, we all do the same for them. Don't kick up this bullshit right before Iowa, especially after complaining about Bernie's lack of support in 2016. https://t.co/VXKCixb4Ci
— Tommy Vietor (@TVietor08) January 21, 2020
What if … there’s no strategy in what Clinton said? What if she just popped off stupidly at an inopportune moment because she couldn’t resist a chance to indulge her grievances and didn’t think of how it might backfire on her politically? She’s done it before, famously with the “basket of deplorables” comment. It’s not hard to believe she did it again. She’s a bad politician. Bad politicians are bad at politics. Ask Wisconsinites.
Exit quotation from Bernie, who’s playing it low key because he knows he doesn’t need to play it high key for this story to get progressive voters’ attention:
Sen. Sanders responds after Hillary Clinton’s new comments about him:
“My focus today is on a monumental moment in American history: the impeachment trial of Donald Trump. Together, we are going to go forward and defeat the most dangerous president in American history.”
— NBC News (@NBCNews) January 21, 2020