In recent weeks, progressive media have coalesced around the idea that Bernie overplayed his hand in the post-primary period. It doesn’t give us any satisfaction to say this, but we’ve been warning him and his aides for months that going hard negative on Hillary would destroy him, not her. Instead of heeding our warnings, they attacked us.
In a piece for the New York Times entitled “Democrats Need to Wake Up,” Bernie again feigns ignorance about everything the Democratic Party has been doing for working people for decades, and fails to mention key progressive issues like reproductive justice, LGBTx rights, and disability rights — which are deeply and inextricably attached to class inequality.
He lost the primary in no small part because of his singular focus on economic inequality to the exclusion of crucial identity issues central to progressive politics, while Hillary has increasingly embraced and articulated meaningful intersectional analysis.
And yet he bangs the same worn-out drum — and somehow believes that it has positioned him as the arbiter of what the Democratic Party platform should be, continuing to go negative on her and “that party.”
We have been warning, for months, that this would be his reputational destiny if he continued to pursue a strategy of attacking Hillary and fomenting Democratic divisions. Sure enough, he is now losing leverage and becoming the object of anger and scorn.
Let’s take a little stroll down memory lane, with a collection of the times we told Bernie he was on a path to self-destruction.
February 4: “A funny thing happens to people who think they can take down Hillary Clinton by assailing her character: they end up with their own reputations in tatters. Just ask Trey Gowdy. The Democratic nomination process was destined to become more intense, the contrasts sharper. It always works that way. But Bernie Sanders’s sudden lurch into hardball politics will only harm him.”
March 17: “Going along with campaign operatives who see their only path to victory running through Hillary’s integrity has cost Bernie dearly. And if he keeps it up in spite of Hillary’s clear path to the nomination, it will cost him even more.”
April 3: “Bernie is learning the hard way that throwing mud at Hillary only sullies the person who threw it. He would be wise to reconsider his decision, though it’s likely too late.”
April 7: “Hillary has survived every attack thrown at her for decades. In fact, she has not just survived, but thrived, becoming one of the nation’s most prominent statespeople. Personal attacks haven’t worked before and they won’t work this time. They will deliver her right to the Oval Office. And Bernie will be left regretting his broken promise to run a positive campaign.”
April 15: “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.”
April 15: “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.”
April 17: “Bernie’s systematic character assault against Hillary has made his campaign less about something and more against someone. It is a shameful aspect of the 2016 race and the reason Bernie is losing. For some reason, his campaign and surrogates keep doubling down, failing to understand that many an attacker has crashed and burned while attempting to take down Hillary.”
April 25: “The primary is not the only thing Bernie is losing. If he continues down this path, his own integrity is at risk.”
May 21: “Months before the national media decided to report on Bernie’s self-admitted character assault against Hillary, we warned that his sharp detour into attack politics would damage him more than it damaged Hillary.”
May 21: “Bernie’s path to salvaging his personal brand is to help Hillary defeat Trump.”
May 22: “Bernie’s reputation is fast degrading as he continues attacking Hillary, but he can’t seem to help himself.”
May 23: “Bernie’s decision to go hard negative on Hillary was a grave mistake. Many a reputation has crashed on the shores of Hillary’s strength and dignity. Bernie seems determined to follow in the footsteps of the many detractors who have underestimated Hillary and ruined their own legacy while trying in vain to damage hers. His inability (or unwillingness) to be graceful in defeat is becoming a sorry spectacle. A life’s legacy at risk of being tossed away, and for what?”
May 24: “Yet another sterling example of how Team Sanders isn’t even operating in a sphere where they’re likely to do damage to any other candidate except Bernie Sanders himself. This doesn’t hurt Hillary, and it doesn’t hurt Donald. It just hurts Bernie, hastening his inexplicable canter away from anything resembling an admirable legacy.”
May 27: “The fact that you’re doing the opposite [of winding down your candidacy] is why you’re rapidly squandering the legacy you spent your life building. There is only one way to regain it: Do the right thing, the ethical thing, the dignified thing, and join with Hillary to bash Trump, not the reverse.”
May 28: “Bernie’s campaign has become a slow motion exercise in self-destruction. He may think he’s harming Hillary; he may think his reputation isn’t being damaged by his reckless actions. He couldn’t be more mistaken.”
June 2: “[Bernie is] squandering serious opportunities to make a case against a dangerous rightwing extremist, in favor of undercutting the woman who has the best—the only—chance at stopping him.”
June 5: “Bernie has overplayed his hand. It’s a classic mistake in politics and in life. And when you overplay your hand, you lose your power and leverage.”
The bitter irony is that we have been relentlessly attacked for giving what turned out to be sage advice, to a candidate we once admired.
But we were right. Continuing to run hard negative against Hillary and disgorging divisive jeremiads against the Democratic Party has not enhanced Bernie’s credibility, but severely diminished it.
So, when Team Bernie sees, as examples, Joan Walsh writing that Bernie will have more leverage if he endorses Hillary; or Greg Sargent writing that “the window for Sanders’s endorsement to have made a dramatic impact in terms of media attention and rallying his supporters against Donald Trump…may, if anything, be closing”; or Jamelle Bouie making the case under the blunt headline “Bernie Blew It,” they should remember that we were there months before, giving them ample warning.
It didn’t have to go this way. Bernie had a clear choice about whether he wanted to be a hero or a punchline. He wanted to be a hero, but pursued the path that was only going to end badly for him.
And no one can say we didn’t warn him. We surely did.