Letting go of the past can be difficult. And no one, it seems, knows that better than Hillary Clinton.
Last year’s Democratic presidential candidate still appears to be reeling from her stinging defeat by Donald Trump. In her new book, “What Happened” — set to hit bookshelves Tuesday — Clinton lays much of the blame for her loss at the feet of others. And one of the biggest targets to receive Clinton’s scorn is her former Democratic primary rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Clinton says that Sanders’ presence in last year’s primaries made her race more difficult and argues that he paved the way for Trump’s “Crooked Hillary” campaign.
“[Sanders] had to resort to innuendo and impugning my character,” Clinton wrote in a pre-released excerpt of her book, “[because we] agreed on so much.”
Further, Clinton claims Sanders isn’t proud to be a Democrat. But even if that’s true, his message galvanized youth voters, encouraging many to register as Democrats. The Democratic Party has unquestionably benefited from Sanders’ presence.
Success in politics depends on building coalitions with others, and attacking an opponent from a past election isn’t productive in working toward that goal. Clinton’s own campaign marketed slogans expressing positivity, compromise and togetherness — her campaign slogan emphasized that America is “Stronger Together.” However, in dwelling on the past and possibly dividing Democrats, Clinton — as a representative of the party establishment — now risks alienating voters in pivotal swing states.
Democratic politicians and activists across the spectrum are frustrated by the comments leaked from Clinton’s upcoming memoir. Red-state moderates such as Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri responded to Clinton’s comments dismissively, refusing to even engage on the topic of the memoir at all.
Progressives are frustrated with Clinton, too. New York political strategist Jonathan Tasini, who challenged Clinton for her Senate seat in 2006, attacked her — in an email to Politico, the Sanders supporter called the book “a sad, petty ‘It’s Everyone Else’s Fault,’ book.”
Even Sanders himself responded to Clinton’s criticism. He stressed the Democratic Party must move forwards instead of focusing on the election loss.
“We have enormous problems facing us, and I think it’s a little bit silly to keep talking about 2016,” Sanders told Stephen Colbert on the Late Show earlier this month.
While all this intraparty drama is going on, it’s important to remember the other side of the political aisle, where Republicans continue to increase their political power. The GOP holds majorities in both houses of Congress, and it’s primed to expand its Senate majority in 2018, as 10 Democratic incumbents are running in states Trump won. Additionally, at the state level, Republicans control 32 state legislatures and hold 33 gubernatorial seats.
This dominance gives Republicans the ability to enact policy counter to the interests of both mainstream Democrats like Clinton and progressives like Sanders. This alone should be enough to encourage Democrats to seek a greater, more unified base of voters.
Sanders generated tremendous enthusiasm for his policies within the Democratic Party and marketed that into an incredible presence in the Democratic primaries. He managed to pose a serious challenge to Clinton, a Goliath of American politics. In spite of his second-place finish, Sanders captured more than 13 million votes over the course of the primaries.
But despite her rival’s widespread support among Democrats, Clinton’s writing repeatedly question Sanders’ devotion to the Democratic Party — and by extension, his supporters’.
“He didn’t get into the race to make sure a Democrat won the White House,” she claims in the book. “He got in to disrupt the Democratic Party.”
Regardless of Sanders’ motivations, the primaries were brutal for both Clinton and Sanders. Negative campaigning is a disappointingly prominent feature in all politics, and Clinton calling Sanders out for not being invested “enough” in the party is nonsensical.
Sanders remained active in Democratic Party politics during the general election. He endorsed Clinton at the Democratic National Convention and was a prominent surrogate for Clinton, stressing unity against Trump.
Concerning for Democrats is that more than one in 10 Sanders primary voters voted for Trump in the general election, according to the data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study. Imagine how many more Sanders voters might have crossed party lines if Sanders hadn’t given his support to Clinton.
Despite her loss, Clinton remains a major figure in the Democratic Party. And rehashing old grudges will accomplish nothing other than alienating potential voters who could play a pivotal role for Democrats in future elections.
At a time like this, her former campaign slogan “Stronger Together” could not be more relevant. But based on her memoir, it seems Clinton should have taken a look at her old campaign banners more often.
Write to Ben at firstname.lastname@example.org.