Hillary Clinton is signaling she’s had enough of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). She is no danger of losing on the delegate count, but continued losses reinforce the perception she is a weak, vulnerable general election candidate. At home in New York, it makes sense for her to take off the gloves. Not so long ago she was trying to evade a debate before the New York primary. Nearly two weeks of campaigning and the April 14 debate face-off give her the opportunity to clobber Sander. Here’s how:
1. Sanders, as we learned from his clueless interview with the New York Daily News, still has not bothered to learn much about foreign policy. He plans on telling Israel to withdraw from West Bank settlements (How? In exchange for what?) and claims Israel’s use of missiles to defend itself in the Gaza war was excessive. Today he got a reprimand from the Anti-Defamation League, which put out a statement:
[Sanders] called Israel’s actions during the 2014 war in Gaza “disproportionate” and greatly overstated Palestinian civilian casualties, saying “my recollection is over 10,000 innocent people were killed in Gaza.”
“Even the highest number of casualties claimed by Palestinian sources that include Hamas members engaged in attacking Israel is five times less than the number cited by Bernie Sanders,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO. “As Mr. Sanders publicly discusses his approach to key U.S. foreign policy priorities, including Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, accuracy and accountability are essential for the voting public, but also for U.S. credibility in the international community. We urge Senator Sanders to correct his misstatements.”
Here is one time Clinton can run to the right of an opponent on Israel, without offending her base. Since, by one estimate Jews make up 19 percent of the Democratic primary electorate just in New York City, she would do well to reprise the themes of her AIPAC speech (“The United States and Israel must be closer than ever, stronger than ever and more determined than ever to prevail against our common adversaries and to advance our shared values.”) and to chide Sanders for being out to lunch.
2. New York Democrats are more steely-eyed when it comes to national security for obvious reasons. Clinton should make clear that she is the more sober of the two, someone who is experienced enough to keep Americans safe. While usually a Republican theme, national security and anti-terrorism work for her in a city that endured 9/11.
3. Sanders actually does not know much about anything, including his own plan to break up the banks. Ignorance is bliss for an aging socialist, but for the next president who is possibly going up against a GOP House and Senate, cluelessness is not an asset, Clinton should argue. Without demeaning his supporters or the desire for voters to be inspired, she should make clear that telling everyone they can have everything without paying for it is dishonest, politics as usual. (Come to think of it, that’s no different than the subprime lenders — whom Sanders would like jailed — who snookered unwary customers into buying houses they could not afford.) If he cannot tell voters how he is going to accomplish his aims, how’s he ever going to do it? (Sounds a bit like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) railing at Trump, as you might have noticed.)
4. Clinton can push the gun issue strongly in New York where Sanders’s record clashes with liberal anti-gun crusaders, most recently under the auspices of former mayor Michael Bloomberg. In her interview Wednesday on MSNBC, she went straight at her opponent: “That he would place gun manufacturers’ rights and immunity from liability against the parents of the children killed at Sandy Hook, is just unimaginable to me.” It is an issue that worked well early on in the race for her; the debate is the opportune time to return to a strong issue for her.
5. Her partisanship may be problematic in the general election, but in New York being battle tested is an asset. Here, Trump works to her advantage. Who are Democrats going to rely on to keep the big, bad bully out of the White House? Who’s going to run circles around him, revealing his ignorance and unpreparedness? Raising the prospect of losing everything they have labored to achieve over seven years may remind Democrats that however unenthusiastic they may be about her, losing the White House would be a tragedy for their cause.
6. Clinton should not be afraid to pull the “all politics is local” card on Sanders, recounting her dutiful representation of the state in the Senate. She is the master of details so weaving into the conversation New York-specific issues — be it infrastructure investment, school funding, mental health or drinking water — will be a plus for her.
We know Clinton is capable of turning in solid debate performances. She will need another one, plus strong free media coverage for a couple of weeks, to lock down her state. The good news is that in New York the issues seem to lean against the Brooklyn-born Sanders.