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Gloves Off? Hillary Clinton Hints at a Flawed Tactic to Jab at Bernie Sanders

Updated on August 4, 2015
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton may soon try to go negative against progressive competitor Bernie Sanders to shore up her own support.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton may soon try to go negative against progressive competitor Bernie Sanders to shore up her own support. | Source

Where Was Hillary at the Netroots Nation Conference?

The Democratic presidential pre-primaries have been cordial...but that might be about to change. Early this year, Hillary Clinton was presumed to be the "inevitable" Democratic nominee for president, being the obvious choice to claim the mantle she lost to Barack Obama in 2008. However, she has been caught by surprise by the populist campaign run by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), whose leftist policy proposals have garnered the support of millions who believe that the American economy is broken. In polls, Sanders has risen steadily, and now claims more than 20 percent of Democratic and liberal-leaning support.

Clinton, meanwhile, has seen her support erode as scandals mar her image. From Benghazi to Secretary of State emails to her vast wealth, Clinton has an image problem. Simply put, too many voters, even those who support her in polls, are both unexcited about her candidacy and view her as disingenuous and untrustworthy. Most of the support for Clinton appears to be based solely on the fact that people think she can win the general election against the Republicans. This itself is flawed, for Sanders is a far better candidate against the GOP.

A new problem for Clinton has arisen, and may be making her testy. Vice president Joe Biden, who has never stated that he is not running for president, may now be mulling a bid. Recent news reports have announced that Biden's late son, Beau, encouraged his father to run before he died of cancer. Biden, who sought the presidency in 1988 and 2008, is widely known to aspire to the Oval Office. Clinton's weakness and Sanders' unexpected popularity make be influencing Biden to throw his hat into the ring. Biden and his supporters may believe that the race is relatively open and that he now has a chance to win.

With most of Biden's support coming from more moderate Democrats who currently support Clinton, a Biden entry into the race could be disastrous for the former Secretary of State. As a result, Clinton may be preparing to take the gloves off and begin jabbing at her current chief rival, Bernie Sanders. She may feel that she needs to show aggressiveness and strength to ward off a Biden candidacy...and to stop Sanders from gaining ground!

According to CNN, Clinton has hinted that she may attack Sanders on the issue of race. In an interview, Clinton doubled down on her view that racism and economic inequality are separate issues, while Sanders has long asserted that the two are intricately linked. Sanders, whose constituency in Vermont is 95 percent white, has been criticized for being unable to connect well with nonwhite voters. He has also been attacked by Black Lives Matter protesters for focusing overmuch on economic inequality and not enough on institutional racism.

While Clinton may have more nonwhite support than Sanders, she should tread cautiously. Her absence at the Netroots Nation conference in Phoenix, where Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley provoked the ire of Black Lives Matter protesters, could be used to highlight her absenteeism in the campaign. While Sanders actively engages with voters, including those who might criticize him, Clinton remains safely swaddled behind throngs of aides and employees. She focused on well-crafted sound bites and social media posts, not genuine engagement. Thus far, the race among the Democrats has remained cordial...but Sanders has plenty of ammunition to use to defend himself if he must. He has not called out Clinton for her numerous evasions of tough questions or her decidedly un-populist wealth.

Jabbing at Sanders on race would also double down Clinton's use of identity politics to reinforce her support among Democrats. Thus far, Clinton has been open about championing women's issues, especially the alleged gender gap in compensation, which is a sharp contrast from 2008. In 2008, Clinton strove to avoid highlighting herself as a "woman candidate" and focused on appearing like a strong, military-savvy leader. This time around, she is trying a new tactic. While this is certainly admirable, it does pose risks. If Clinton goes too far in using identity politics, she will be labeled as divisive and openly fishing for votes instead of seeking policies to benefit all.

If Clinton goes negative, she may reap far more than she sows, from both Republicans and fellow Democrats. It could be enough to cripple her campaign. She should avoid taking potshots at Bernie Sanders, especially in regard to an issue where she herself is far from strong.


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