One of the more irritating parts of the new book Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign involves Clintonites whining about Bernie Sanders criticizing Clinton and dividing the party. Bernie’s challenge to Clinton was a perfectly normal event, given that there was no Democratic incumbent running for reelection. If the Clintonites wanted to see some real division and bitterness, they just needed to look at Trump and the GOP.
Sanders was a challenger who took some rhetorical shots, won some states, and then endorsed the eventual nominee. This isn’t unusual. In 1980, Reagan faced the same kind of challenge from George Herbert Walker Bush. In 2000, George W. Bush faced the same kind of challenge from John McCain. In 2008, Obama faced the same kind of challenge from Hillary Clinton. So did party nominees who didn’t win the presidency: Walter Mondale, Mike Dukakis, Bob Dole, John McCain, Mitt Romney. Given that she wasn’t an incumbent, Clinton’s road to the nomination was about average.
And then there are the Republicans. The shots that Trump took from his Republican rivals were much sharper than anything Sanders threw at Clinton. There is nothing from Sanders that even begins to compare to Rick Perry’s calling Trump a “cancer on conservatism.” Sanders said he didn’t care about Clinton’s e-mails while Marco Rubio attacked Trump from head to . . . well . . . you know.
Sanders gave a prime-time speech at the Democratic convention endorsing Clinton. Ted Cruz, Trump’s main GOP rival, gave a prime-time speech at the Republican convention whose implicit theme was that voters should elect Republicans to Congress in order to protect the Constitution from both Clinton and Trump. The resulting scene of a GOP convention booing a former candidate who was passive-aggressively attacking the nominee was like something out of the GOP disaster in 1964.
One of Clinton’s many advantages was that her party’s elected elites rallied around her to a normal degree, while the GOP’s elected elites obviously hated and despised Trump. House Speaker Paul Ryan would take every opportunity to distance himself from Trump whenever things got hot. Ryan made it a point to publicly disinvite Trump from a party unity rally. There is no keeping track of all the Republican elected officials who refused to endorse Trump, or unendorsed Trump (however temporarily), or suspended their support for Trump at one point or another. It was a lot.
Clinton had the advantage of a normal road to the nomination and a unified party. Trump faced the kind of intraparty hostility that is usually associated with blowout losers like Barry Goldwater in 1964 and George McGovern in 1972. The Clintonites (and their candidate) blew it.