The following is an editorial by PoliticusUSA’s co-publisher Sarah Jones.
Demoralized Democrats are depressed today because they’ve had an entire primary of issue indulgence, with excellent presidential candidates focused on policy and issues that matter deeply to the base. The Democratic primary has truly been a cornucopia of issues, a fact that made a sharp contrast between the Republican cage match of violent extremism and the Democratic primary of wonky debate.
Until the last few days.
It started to come unglued after Senator Bernie Sanders had a puzzling interview with the Daily News that didn’t go well, and which honestly makes no sense to me yet. This interview was all the rage and prompted questions about whether or not Senator Sanders was qualified to be President.
Hillary Clinton was repeatedly asked on Morning Joe if Sanders were qualified and she refused to say that she found him unqualified but she also refused to say he was qualified.
Under pressure to answer for his Daily News interview, Sanders accused Clinton of being unqualified to be president. He claimed that she had said this about him, saying Wednesday, “She has been saying lately that she thinks that I am, quote unquote, not qualified to be president.”
But fact checkers say no, Clinton did not say that.
This led to a two day scream fest between the candidates’ supporters on social media with “#HillarySoQualified” trending on Twitter. It’s getting so ugly that moderate Democrats are in hiding from the more vocal far left.
Saying your primary opponent is not qualified is bad for business. It is a character attack, especially when lobbed at Hillary Clinton, whose resume reads like a How To Prepare to Be President guide. It’s simply not logical.
If you point this out, Sanders supporters list off the reasons they oppose Clinton. When those reasons are policy based or issue based, they are totally legitimate. But that is not the same thing as saying she is not qualified to be president.
This pains me to see, as I am a long-time admirer of Senator Sanders. But it looks to me as if his campaign became so big so quickly that he was not able to prepare properly, leading to a stumble like accusing Clinton of saying something she didn’t say or not having policy answers in his interview with the Daily News (still something off about that, so unlike the Sanders we have been watching for years, at least on domestic issues). Our editor-in-chief Jason Easley wrote about the frustrations of the Sanders campaign earlier today here.
The other problem with Sanders going negative with character attacks is mind your opponent. Hillary Clinton is not exactly new to this game and she is far more skilled and adept at it. She parried with the best, President Obama, and it was brutal. She’s still here. She’s fought the creepiest and ugliest of Republican arrows for decades. Clinton can leave an empty space to be filled in and thereby suggest something that she has never said. This is a skill of a good politician. Getting angry about being bested by that skill isn’t what a winner does. A winner finds a way to counteract it.
This is not how you fight a Clinton. The Sanders campaign should get out the 2008 tapes of President Obama, who has mastered the art of the sling that doesn’t stick to him.
But it is also not how Democrats should be running their campaigns. Especially not when they have the issues on their side.
Senator Sanders has a long-standing, unimpeachable record of fighting for the people and he needs to stay rooted on that strength instead of falling for low hanging fruit. Hillary Clinton had a stumble earlier in the primary and this is Sanders’ stumble. He can easily recover from it by reinforcing the positive things he stands for and staying above the character attacks as he has in the past. Sanders’ high-minded persona is something Democrats are very attracted to, he needs to remind them of the principled, respectful person he is.
If I were advising Bernie Sanders I would suggest that he find a friendly media source that would quote him fully and in context, and he should say he regrets the tone of the campaign in recent days and he respects Hillary Clinton, but he disagrees with her on important policy issues and for that reason thinks he is the best choice.
This has been a long primary, and it sort of came out of nowhere and blossomed into an incredible discussion about issues the country desperately needed to have elevated. These two Democratic candidates did that. They are the only two candidates talking about things that really matter to voters, like income inequality, racial justice, women’s pay and women’s rights, how to handle our resources more fairly, and so much more.
There’s way too much gold here to toss away at the last minute out of exhaustion or undisciplined moments.
The bottom line is these character attacks do nothing to help win the primary and they do everything to carry Republican water.
Ms. Jones is the editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah has won two Telly Awards and is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.