NOTE: We’ve updated this article and headline in light of the April 14 Democratic debate, where the issue of Hillary’s transcripts was raised yet again. Bernie Sanders was confronted about this relentless attack and was unable to provide a single example of a quid pro quo on Hillary’s part.
And here’s what the pundits won’t tell you: A recent New York Times story on why Bernie is losing to Hillary contains a major admission: Bernie’s ‘release the transcripts’ attack line is “the sort of character assault he has long opposed.”
In the New York Times, Patrick Healy and Yamiche Alcindor wrote a widely-quoted story headlined “Early Missteps Seen as a Drag on Bernie Sanders’s Campaign.” The gist is that Bernie is losing to Hillary because he didn’t go hard negative on her early enough. This is a fundamental shift from the oft-repeated contention that Bernie has kept his promise that he would not go negative at all.
In fact, Bernie’s chief strategist Tad Devine told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, “We aren’t anywhere near what a personal, nasty campaign looks like.” A week later he told Mitchell, “There are real differences. But not going to attack her personally.”
The Times article is peppered with concessions that Bernie has, indeed, gone negative—but it is this paragraph that contains a stunning admission about Bernie’s own views of his 2016 strategy:
Mr. Sanders’s advisers urged him to challenge Mrs. Clinton over accepting $675,000 from Goldman Sachs for delivering three speeches, according to two Sanders advisers. Mr. Sanders, hunched over a U-shaped conference table, rejected it as a personal attack on Mrs. Clinton’s income — the sort of character assault he has long opposed. She has the right to make money, he offered.
Let that sink in.
Bernie Sanders, according to the New York Times, agrees with what we’ve been saying for months: His Wall Street dog whistle is a direct assault on Hillary’s integrity.
Tad Devine cements the point, openly admitting that Bernie has pivoted to a “personal attack” strategy:
“The central complication with Bernie is that he never wanted to cross into the zone of personal attacks because it would undercut his brand,” Mr. Devine said. “Is there another candidate who could have run a tough negative campaign against her from the beginning and been effective? Sure, but it couldn’t have been Bernie. That’s just not who he is.”
Notwithstanding these revelations, Bernie continues to maintain that he is taking the high road, even as he personally replicates the construction in which denials of going negative are infused with negative attacks.
His weekend interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper is getting a lot of attention because of his incredulous defense of not releasing his tax returns, but Tapper also asked Bernie about going negative against Hillary:
TAPPER: You have said that you’re not going to make an issue out of the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mail server. But a high-profile surrogate of yours, the actress Rosario Dawson, she brought it up this week at one of your rallies in New York. […] Now, when it comes to the FBI investigation, are you trying to have it both ways? You don’t make any accusations against her, but one of your highest-profile surrogates does?
SANDERS: Hey, Jake, Jake, we have dozens of surrogates, and Rosario is doing a great job for us. She was with me in the South Bronx when we had 18,000 people coming out to start our campaign in New York. We have many, many surrogates who say many, many things. Many of these surrogates do not agree with everything I say. And I do not agree with every approach and everything that they say. And that’s the simple reality. What we have done — and, by the way, there are a lot of people who say, Bernie, why don’t you go after her on her FBI investigation? Why don’t you go after her on the Clinton Foundation money? We have chosen not to do that.
Note that Tapper did not even introduce the subject of “the Clinton Foundation money.” That was Bernie, who didn’t provide any context, but instead let the mere invocation serve as insinuation of corruption.
Over and over again, from calling Hillary emblematic of “the establishment,” to inextricably tying her to “Wall Street” by making allusions to her privately earned speaking fees, to fomenting conspiracy theories about how the Democratic Party is rigging the primary for Hillary—repeatedly hammering talking points that connect her to the institutions Bernie criticizes as the raison d’être for his calls for revolution—Bernie’s campaign and surrogates have implicated Hillary as corrupt.
Even after Hillary called out his “artful smear” at a February debate, telling him to stop attacking her via insinuation and urging him, “If you’ve got something to say, say it directly,” the relentless attacks by wink and suggestion have continued.
Now Team Bernie, with a helpful assist from the New York Times, at the very moment Bernie is under increased scrutiny for going negative with mendacious innuendo, is trying to rewrite the narrative that the real problem is that Bernie just had too much decency to go negative sooner.
If any of this sounds familiar, perhaps it’s because this narrative uncannily echoes the post-mortems written about another senator who lost the presidency to a popular candidate, after promising to run a positive campaign, then going negative with personal attacks delivered via innuendo and “rogue” surrogates.
John McCain, who once had a reputation as one of the most principled members of the Senate, never recovered after the appalling campaign he ran against President Obama. He, too, was supposed to have been a candidate whose unyielding integrity held him back from fighting dirty, even at the urging of his advisors—though his army of surrogates, including and especially his running mate, Sarah Palin, incessantly smeared Obama by insinuation.
After his resounding defeat, there was a desperate attempt to rewrite history to elide that it was when his campaign started going deeply negative that people started to dislike him, especially when he was obliged to publicly address his supporters’ ugly bigotry. The truth is, no amount of retroactive spin could undo the damage McCain did to himself—not because he was bursting with integrity, but because he was desperate to win.
We’re not comparing Bernie to McCain, but we are illustrating that their excuses sound awfully similar.
As we’ve been observing for months, Bernie’s decision to go hard negative on Hillary has been a terrible mistake. It will not help him win, and may cost him even more than the nomination.
And we’ll give the final word on the absurd notion that Bernie would be winning if only he tried harder to Rachel Maddow:
[Peter Daou contributed to this article]
(AP Photo/David Becker)