A recent NY Times story on why Bernie is losing contains a jarring revelation: His attack line on Hillary’s speech transcripts is “the sort of character assault he has long opposed.” Full quote: “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.” So why has Bernie spent all of 2016 doing what he finds so objectionable? Answer: Politics.
Lost in the obsession over Hillary’s speech transcripts (the media needed something to replace the email story, another bust) is that Bernie himself reportedly considers it an unjust “character assault.”
This goes directly to one of the big inflection points of the 2016 Democratic primary: the fateful — and ill-fated — decision by Bernie to ignore his own misgivings and to go hard negative on Hillary.
Some of it can be attributed to pressure from his senior aides Jeff Weaver and Tad Devine, who have shown themselves to be classic attack operatives, favoring scorched earth tactics if it means winning. But in this case, it doesn’t.
Going personal on Hillary, the most vetted human on the planet, is a high-risk endeavor. Many a conservative attack has broken to pieces on the shores of Hillary’s indomitability. Bernie is learning the hard way that people who traffic in innuendo against Hillary end up damaging their own credibility.
Bernie and his advisers, his surrogates and supporters have blasted away at Hillary’s character for months, insinuating that she is corrupt. They have repeatedly impugned her integrity without a scintilla of hard evidence of a quid pro quo and the national media have helped them do it by mindlessly repeating Bernie’s talking points.
But the New York Times blew a big hole in the transcript attack, exposing Bernie’s own belief that hitting Hillary on paid speeches is a character assault. And at the April 14 debate in Brooklyn, the specious and insidious attack line crashed and burned.
Bernie was asked for a single example of Hillary making a decision that favored banks because of money she received. He was stumped and fumbled through a non-answer. Hillary rightfully called him out.
Sanders struggled to make his case at the key moment, though. When he was asked exactly what Clinton had done or not done to appease the Wall Street donors he says influences her, he wasn’t able to come up with specifics. After the debate, Sanders surrogates didn’t have much to add.