This week MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow expressed surprise at the recent comments that Bernie Sanders had made regarding his opponent Hillary Clinton and her qualifications for president, saying that Sanders is “going after his Democratic opponent in a way that we have not heard before in this Democratic fight.”
Sanders…she has been saying lately that she thinks that I am ‘not qualified’ to be president.
Well, let me, let me just say in response to Secretary Clinton: I don’t believe that she is qualified, if she is, through her SUPER PAC, taking tens of millions of dollars in special interest funds. I don’t think that you are qualified if you get $15 million from Wall Street through your super PAC.”
I don’t think you are qualified if you have voted for the disastrous war in Iraq. I don’t think you are qualified if you have supported virtually every disastrous trade agreement which has cost us millions of decent paying jobs. I don’t think you are qualified if you’ve supported the Panama free trade agreement, something I very strongly opposed and, which as all of you know, has allowed corporations and wealthy all over the world people to avoid paying their taxes to their countries.
Maddow tried to examine why Sanders decided to go so dramatically negative on Clinton.
What we think this is about is, what we think he’s referencing there, Secretary Clinton saying today in an interview that Bernie Sanders has not done his homework on some issues that have come up in the campaign, in a sort of rough interview that he had with the editorial board of the NY Daily News in the last few days. Sanders is responding to that characterization tonight by saying, ‘Hillary Clinton is not qualified to serve as president of the United States.
However, what Maddow may have missed is that host Joe Scarborough kept trying to get Clinton to say Sanders was unqualified to be president, and she didn’t take the bait. Here’s an excerpt.
Scarborough: So is he, is he qualified? …I know there are a lot of examples where he came up short and the interviewers were having to repeat questions and so the question, and I’m serious, if you weren’t running today and you looked at Bernie Sanders, would you say, ‘This guy is ready to be president of the United States’?”
Clinton: Well, I think he hadn’t done his homework, and he’d been talking for more than a year about doing things that he obviously hadn’t really studied or understood, and that does raise a lot of questions. And really what that goes to is for voters to ask themselves, Can he deliver what he is talking about, can he really help people, can he help our economy, can he keep our country strong?
While Scarborough tried to goad Clinton into saying that Sanders was unfit to be president, Clinton did her best to come up just short of crossing that line. The former Secretary of State danced on it but didn’t cross it.
For Sanders to get dragged into an ugly fight like this does his campaign no favors.
First, because the Sanders campaign prides itself on sticking to the issues. For the most part Sanders has managed to make his campaign about the issues and cleaning up Washington. His genuine concern for corporate influence in our political system is what energizes and excites his supporters. For Sanders to directly go negative could turn off a lot of voters who are still on the fence between the candidates.
Second, there’s the the elephant in the room: gender. For Sanders to say that a male opponent is unqualified plays a lot differently than saying the same thing about a woman. Many may disagree, but it’s the truth. If he were running against Joe Biden and said the vice president was unqualified, people would be upset, but for different reasons. They would only see Sanders’ statement as an attack on Biden’s record.
However, with an experienced, competent, and very well-qualified woman like Hillary Clinton, saying she’s unqualified to be president takes on a much different meaning. Yes, Sanders did use specific policy examples to augment his argument, but at the end of the day, many people may see it as a sexist attack. There’s a long tradition of men having the chauvinistic attitude that women are unqualified to hold positions of power. It gives ammunition to the critics.
On Thursday, Sanders doubled down in an attempt to justify going after Clinton’s qualifications. Here’s the video.
For Sanders to make this kind of blunder could be very damaging to his campaign. His hardcore supporters will continue to stand behind him, but it’s possible that many of the voters he’s trying to persuade may pivot back towards Clinton.
Another thing to consider is how much harder it becomes for Sanders supporters to support Hillary Clinton, even if the Vermont senator eventually does concede and give her his support.
One thing is certain: New York’s upcoming primary will be the ultimate test as to whether or not the Sanders campaign made a misstep in going after Clinton’s qualifications.
Featured Image Screengrab via YouTube.