The Corner


Is It Significant That Hillary Wouldn’t Say She Would Endorse Sanders against Trump?

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders at a Clinton campaign rally in North Carolina, November 2016. (Reuters photo: Brian Snyder)

Hillary Clinton’s recent salvo at Bernie Sanders — “nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done” — could be just some blunt, headline-grabbing talk designed to generate buzz for the new documentary about her. Or it could be a sign that Clinton, with nothing left to lose, plans on making sure that whomever the Democrats nominate, they won’t nominate her old primary rival. (#NeverSanders!)

But perhaps the most surprising comment from Hillary is her inability to say definitively that she would endorse him in a general election against Trump.

If he gets the nomination, will you endorse and campaign for him?

I’m not going to go there yet. We’re still in a very vigorous primary season. I will say, however, that it’s not only him, it’s the culture around him. It’s his leadership team. It’s his prominent supporters. It’s his online Bernie Bros and their relentless attacks on lots of his competitors, particularly the women. And I really hope people are paying attention to that because it should be worrisome that he has permitted this culture — not only permitted, [he] seems to really be very much supporting it. And I don’t think we want to go down that road again where you campaign by insult and attack and maybe you try to get some distance from it, but you either don’t know what your campaign and supporters are doing or you’re just giving them a wink and you want them to go after Kamala [Harris] or after Elizabeth [Warren]. I think that that’s a pattern that people should take into account when they make their decisions.

We shouldn’t overstate this; elsewhere in the interview, Clinton says, “I’ll do anything I can to defeat the current incumbent, and to reverse a lot of his damaging policies.” But the fact that Clinton couldn’t say yes to the question about endorsing Bernie is still pretty revealing; her low opinion of the Vermont senator is comparable to her opinion of Trump.

No doubt quite a few Sanders fans will choose to see Clinton’s comments as a blessing in disguise. There are plenty of Democrats who stopped feeling warm and fuzzy towards Hillary Clinton after the 2016 defeat, and who would prefer that she would stop jumping into the primary and creating headlines over old grudges. Barack Obama and Donald Trump demonstrated that Clinton can be a good figure to run against. And that’s true enough as far as it goes.

But if you follow fans of other candidates on social media, including fans of candidates who have left the race, you get the sense that a significant portion of Democratic loyalists are quickly growing tired of dealing with Sanders’s constant tension with the rest of the party. They fume that Sanders wants to lead the Democrats, when he only started formally running as a Democratic candidate starting in 2015. They resent his implications that their fundraising is inherently corrupting. They find his agenda unrealistically ambitious, extraordinarily difficult to pass, and impossible to sell in purple districts — a fantasy wish list that inherently dismisses real Democratic accomplishments like the Affordable Care Act, Dodd-Frank, and the stimulus as small potatoes. They remember that 12 percent of Sanders’ primary voters went on to vote for Trump in the 2016 general election and wonder why they’re expected to cater to and avoid offending a group of voters who will flip to the other side when the differences are so stark. A lot of online supporters of other candidates have run across the “Bernie Bros” and find them obnoxious, nasty, and insufferable.

Hillary’s not going to cost Sanders the nomination, but her willingness to rip him so publicly might reflect a more widespread weariness with him and his supporters — and that weariness might be what holds back Sanders when push comes to shove in the primary fight.

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