Hillary Clinton secured a major — if predictable — victory in New York on Tuesday night, effectively ending the momentum accumulated by the Sanders campaign over the past several weeks. “The race for the Democratic nomination is in the home stretch, and victory is in sight,” a triumphant Hillary Clinton declared as the results rolled in.
But Bernie Sanders, who has vowed to stay in the race until the end, insists that he will continue to fight, and that he will continue to challenge Secretary Clinton and the nation’s corrupt campaign finance system.
“We have come a very long way in the last 11 months,” Sanders said, “and we are going to fight this out until the end of the process.”
Such commitment, itself a tribute to the record-breaking fundraising that will allow Sanders to sustain his campaign through the convention, has drawn the ire of Clinton operatives and many of her supporters. While Clinton’s path to the nomination is increasingly clear, Clinton supporters are worried that Sanders’ continued attacks on her record and on her corporate backers will hobble her campaign going into the general election.
So they want Sanders to drop out; but they have stopped short of saying so explicitly. Instead, they have argued that, if Sanders is to remain in the race, he better fall in line.
“We kicked his ass tonight,” a Clinton aide told Politico’s Glenn Thrush after Tuesday’s primary. “I hope this convinces Bernie to tone it down. If not, f— him.”
Translation: Sanders needs to stop pointing out the facts about Clinton’s record, as such facts (and her comical reactions to them) may diminish her standing headed into a match-up with Donald Trump.
Indeed, the Clinton camp has even trotted out the tired argument that Sanders, by continuing to launch perfectly legitimate attacks on Clinton’s record, is objectively assisting the Republican party. In an unsolicited lecture, the Clinton campaign’s communications director, Jennifer Palmieri, said, “He needs to decide as he closes out the Democratic primary if he is going to continue on the destructive path that he started down in the New York primary, where he is making personal character attacks against her that mimic the attacks that Republicans make and aid Republicans.”
Let us recall what constitutes a character attack in the eyes of Secretary Clinton: Back in November, in a debate hosted by CBS, Clinton accused Sanders of “impugning” her integrity for pointing out the uncontroversial fact that Clinton has received money from the very institutions she says she will impartially regulate.
If enlightening voters about Clinton’s snug relationship with Wall Street and about her reliance on corporate donations isn’t “in bounds,” so to speak, nothing is.
It is striking that the Clinton campaign is so eager to criticize Sanders’ tone while, at the same time, deploying such nasty rhetoric. But the nastiness has a cause.
Clinton operatives — along with, presumably, Clinton herself — are not angry that Sanders is still in the race, per se. They are angry at the fact that he will, right through July, continue to tell the truth about Clinton’s weaknesses as a presidential candidate.
The Democratic party has demonstrated over the past several decades its willingness to abandon principles for electoral victories; the desire for “party unity” has superseded truth.
So, therefore, Sanders should abandon all criticism — however legitimate — of Clinton’s record and current positions (despite the fact that he has succeeded in nudging her to the left on several issues) and proceed to attack the Republican candidates exclusively.
This is not, it seems, a campaign that is confident in their candidate’s record. Nor should they be: Clinton’s close ties to Wall Street, her lobbying for trade agreements that harm American workers, her weak stance on fracking, her support for the invasion of Iraq and her role in toppling the governments of Honduras and Libya, and her reliance on corporate cash are all aspects of her record that scream out for answers, not flippant dismissals.
Interestingly, the New York Times editorial board, which has formally endorsed Clinton for the Democratic nomination, agrees with this, arguing that Sanders should remain in the race and continue pressuring Clinton.
Here is an excerpt:
“Mr. Sanders has voiced the concerns and energized millions of young people, many of them voting for the first time. His candidacy has forced the party to go deeper on addressing issues like wealth inequality, college tuition costs and the toll of globalization — important points of distinction with Republicans. What’s more, Mr. Sanders’s commitment to small individual contributions has put the lie to Democrats’ excuses that they, too, must play the big money game to win. This is a message too seldom heard in the party that first championed campaign finance reform. That it’s back is long overdue, good for Democrats and good for campaigning.”
If she is as qualified as her campaign insists that she is, Clinton should not have a problem answering the critiques Sanders throws her way. If she does, this does not bode well in a general election match-up that will have Clinton nostalgically longing to face an opponent like Bernie Sanders who, while pointed in his attacks, never descends to the mudslinging so prevalent among Republicans.
Donald Trump or Ted Cruz will certainly not be sympathetic to the Clinton campaign’s request to “tone it down.” And they certainly won’t stick to the issues as Sanders has.
So Bernie shouldn’t fall in line. He should continue doing what he has done throughout his political career: Speak passionately about the injustices that riddle America’s economy and political system.
If Clinton is contributing or has contributed to these injustices, it would be dishonest for him to hold his tongue in deference to a party that is complicit in some of the worst developments since the 1970s and is, as T.A. Frank observes, quickly morphing into the party of the 1%.
“I’ve seen their, I’m sure, heartfelt concerns about the tone of the campaign,” said Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs. “All I would ask them to do is look in the mirror.”