Opinion writer


The details are only just trickling in (I have not seen video posted anywhere), but multiple reports out this morning confirm that Bill Clinton dramatically escalated his criticism of Bernie Sanders at a New Hampshire rally late yesterday.

According to one account, Bill Clinton hammered Sanders’s supporters for unleashing misogynistic attacks against Hillary’s high-profile female supporters, describing them as “vicious trolling and attacks that are literally too profane often, not to mention sexist, to repeat.”

Bill also mocked Sanders for claiming to lead a revolution, claiming: “When you’re making a revolution, you can’t be too careful with the facts.” Bill ridiculed Sanders’s relentlessly on-message criticism of our “rigged” political system and Clinton’s acceptance of Wall Street and corporate money, describing Sanders’s worldview as a “hermetically sealed box.” And Bill also revived the whole flap over whether the Sanders campaign had improperly accessed DNC data that was proprietary to the Clinton campaign.

Compared to what we’re seeing on the GOP side, this is still relatively tame stuff. But Bill’s broadsides nonetheless seem over the top.

Yes, there is a contingent of online Sanders supporters who aggressively go after those who express even a hint of skepticism towards him. But every successful campaign has its share of online supporters who do such things. Yes, Sanders is playing it a bit too cute in suggesting — without saying so outright — that Hillary just might be beholden to big contributors, and yes, it’s fair to ask tough questions about how Sanders’s revolution would actually work. But Bill really should avoid any overt, reductive mockery of the appeal of Sanders’s broad critique of our political system, which risks alienating Sanders supporters who are getting engaged in the political process, many no doubt for the first time in their lives.

Maybe the better move would be to figure out what it is about Sanders’s approach that is enabling him to make young voters feel that they have a stake in politics, and to learn from it. Meanwhile, the data flap was resolved in a manner that reflected well on both campaigns, with Sanders ultimately apologizing for what happened. Why dredge that up again?

It’s hard not to notice the echoes this carries of the 2008 battle between Hillary and Obama. At the time, Bill caustically argued (among many other things) that nominating Obama instead of his wife would “roll the dice,” and famously ridiculed the Obama candidacy as a “fairy tale.” Bill appeared to feel that Obama was largely getting a free pass from the press and that someone had to call this out, to force greater scrutiny of his candidacy. He may well feel the same way now about Sanders.

That impulse is understandable. But Bill Clinton knows the press will pounce on, and magnify, anything he says — fair or not, this is a factor that must be weighed — and if Hillary is still going to win the nomination, she’ll have to unite the party afterwards.

It’s still way too early to say whether Bill will ultimately go as hard at Sanders as he did at Obama in 2008. Hillary’s deep structural advantages probably still make her the heavy favorite for the nomination, so Bill may not feel a need to do that once she starts racking up wins in states that follow New Hampshire.

But one has to hope this latest episode is not a harbinger of more to come along the lines of what we saw in 2008. Hillary and her campaign have worked hard to avoid her being tagged as the establishment candidate who believes she’s entitled to a coronation. This story-line has been exaggerated in unfair ways. But if the goal is to dispel that narrative, it won’t be helpful to have an ex-president who also happens to be your husband angrily ridiculing and belittling the appeal of a spirited challenger who has engaged millions of young voters into the political process in a way you haven’t.


UPDATE: In fairness, Bill Clinton’s 2008 “fairy tale” remark appears to have been aimed at Obama’s arguments about his opposition to the Iraq War, not at his overall candidacy.


* TRUMP’S LEAD GROWS IN NEW HAMPSHIRE: The latest CNN/WMUR tracking poll finds 33 percent of likely New Hampshire GOP primary voters in New Hampshire back Donald Trump, with 16 percent backing Marco Rubio, 14 percent for Ted Cruz, 11 percent for John Kasich and the rest in single digits.

The polling averages show similar findings. If Rubio manages to say ahead of the others it will probably be a decent night for him. Still, the latest UMass Lowell Tracking Poll has Rubio and Cruz tied for second place (and Trump with a large lead), so we’ll see.

* SANDERS DOMINATES IN NEW HAMPSHIRE: The latest CNN/WMUR poll also finds Bernie Sanders leading Hillary Clinton by 58-35. The polling averages put Sanders up 15 points, and the UMass tracker has it at 16 points, so it looks like he’s heading for a big win.

The question is whether it will be enough to shift the dynamic in the contests in the much more diverse electorates that follow.

* BERNIE: I’M NOT QUESTIONING HILLARY’S INTEGRITY: On Face the Nation, Sanders was pressed on whether he is saying that Wall Street and corporate money has actively shaped Clinton’s actual policy positions, and he said:

“It’s just people are throwing millions ever dollars into the campaign, but there’s no reason why they’re throwing that money into the campaign. I think, you know, the American people know better. So, I have never impugned Secretary Clinton’s integrity. I like Secretary Clinton. But we have a corrupt campaign finance system.”

As I’ve noted, Sanders has steadily stopped just short of suggesting that Clinton has been corrupted by Wall Street cash, perhaps because he doesn’t want to be seen doing that.

* HILLARY’S PLAN TO STOP BERNIE: Politico reports that the Clinton campaign is actively taking steps to avoid a repeat of 2008, when Obama slowly amassed delegates against Clinton by racking up wins in caucus states:

Her Brooklyn-based brain trust is…investing heavily in caucus states like Idaho, Maine, Colorado and Minnesota to keep Bernie Sanders from quickly converting his popularity with young voters into an easy succession of victories that puts her in an unrecoverable hole….The campaign has made a strategic decision to spend big on organizers…in the caucus states, according to people briefed on the campaign’s strategic blueprint.

If true, the Clinton camp’s plan for stopping Bernie doesn’t only turn on winning big in the more diverse states, particularly in the south, though that is a big part of it.

* RUBIO’S RIVALS SMELL BLOOD IN WATER, MAYBE: The Associated Press reports that after Rubio’s stumbles in Saturday night’s debate, the trio of governors running for president see an opportunity to halt his rise by humbling him in New Hampshire:

At the heart of the battle between Rubio and Chris Christie, John Kasich and Jeb Bush is whether the freshman Florida senator has the experience and policy depth to serve as president — or whether he’s simply a well-spoken lightweight….Without a strong showing, each will face enormous pressure to drop out from Republican Party leaders eager to rally around a single candidate who can challenge Cruz and Trump.

Right now, it looks like all they can hope for at best is that Rubio is relegated to third place, however.

* WHAT RUBIO’S STUMBLES REALLY TELL US: At Saturday’s debate, Christie brutally excoriated Rubio for repeating the same stale anti-Obama talking points again and again. E.J. Dionne notes that Christie did us all a service in reminding Rubio that governing is hard:

For one night, positioning, ideology and Obama-bashing wrapped in an attractive new package were not enough for Rubio. It’s not clear what Christie did for his own candidacy, but he performed a service by reminding his party that running a government is serious work and ought to be respected. That this was revelatory shows how far contemporary conservatism has strayed from the essential tasks of politics.

* AND RUBIO REVEALS GOP’S DEEPER PROBLEMS: Paul Krugman looks at all the mockery of Rubio’s robotic talking points at Saturday’s debate and asks why the robotic repetition of failed policy bromides (Obamacare = disaster; tax cuts for the rich = awesome) from all the other candidates isn’t even more worthy of mockery:

How did this happen to the G.O.P.? In a direct sense, I suspect that it has a lot to do with Foxification, the way Republican primary voters live in a media bubble into which awkward facts can’t penetrate….while Mr. Rubio did indeed make a fool of himself on Saturday, he wasn’t the only person on that stage spouting canned talking points that are divorced from reality. They all were, even if the other candidates managed to avoid repeating themselves word for word.

Just wait until the eventual GOP nominee runs into the buzz saw of reality otherwise known as the general election.