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‘Disqualify’ And ‘Defeat’: Clinton Campaign Attacks Intensify To Halt Sanders’ Win Streak

Following a week where Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign refused to agree to a New York debate unless Bernie Sanders “toned down” his campaign, the Clinton campaign escalated its negative tone against Sanders, with one aide telling CNN their goal was to “disqualify” and “defeat him.”

One day after losing the Wisconsin primary by a sizable margin, Clinton appeared on “Morning Joe.” POLITICO’s Glenn Thrush gave Clinton a flattering interview. The New York Daily News published a cover story headlined, “Bernie’s Sandy Hook shame.” It accused Sanders of callously defending gun manufacturers against a lawsuit brought by relatives of the victims of the Sandy Hook school shooting.

As CNN reported, “It’s the latest chapter in Clinton’s approach to Sanders. She’s tried ignoring him, brushing him aside, gently dismissing his policies.”

“The Clinton campaign has refrained from going nuclear on Sanders, aides say, in large part to keep at least some goodwill alive in hopes of unifying the party at the end of the primary fight,” according to CNN. “No more, a top adviser [said]. The fight is on. Extending an olive branch to Sanders’ supporters ‘will come later.'”

However, the Clinton campaign and media outlets like CNN promote a false narrative that the campaign has not been in attack mode. Since September, she has used a network of surrogates and rapid response super PACs to push anti-Sanders talking points into the media.

Shadowproof has documented a pattern of dishonest attacks and rumors, particularly since January. The attacks include: Sanders supports Minutemen vigilantes and similar anti-immigrant hate groups, Sanders opposed bailing out auto workers, Sanders supports the NRA, Sanders wants to dismantle the Affordable Health Care Act, Sanders supported the indefinite detention of immigrants, and Sanders sees President Barack Obama as “weak” and will not support Obama’s legacy.

Voters have yet to see the full scope of what the Clinton campaign will sling at Sanders, but today’s interviews indicate she will return to her effort to paint Sanders as a gun-lover. She will focus on the fact that he is an independent senator, and, therefore, he is not a Democrat who will help the Democratic Party win in down-ballot elections in November. She also will attack him on regulating “too big to fail” banks and re-up her artful smear that Sanders has no respect for President Obama.

Clinton Opportunistically Attacks Sanders on Gun Control

In 2008, when Clinton ran against Obama, she sent out mailers attacking Obama’s position on gun control. It was striking, according to Ben Smith of POLITICO, because Clinton had spent most of her career advocating for gun control. Yet, to compete against Obama, she dramatically shifted her stance and presented herself as a Second Amendment advocate, who “fondly recalled being taught to shoot by her grandfather in Scranton.”

Now, Clinton has shifted away from talking about learning to shoot a gun to attacking Sanders for refusing to support the Sandy Hook victims in their lawsuit against gun manufacturers. The reason Sanders opposes the lawsuit because he believes a gun manufacturer should not be criminalized for selling a product which is legal to sell to people. But Sanders would support the victims if they could prove the gun manufacturer knew the person they were selling a weapon to would misuse the weapon, like massacre people with it.

Paul Waldman of The Washington Post wrote, “Sanders is making an important distinction, which is that manufacturers and sellers should be liable for certain kinds of behaviors that create the conditions for gun violence to occur, but not for the simple fact of making and selling guns that are eventually used to kill people. That may have provided the opening for Clinton to attack him, but the truth is that their policy positions at this point aren’t really different.” In fact, “Today he supports most of the same things Clinton does, like expanded background checks.”

“A legal strategy targeted at gun manufacturers could succeed where legislative strategies have failed,” Waldman added. Yet, Waldman suggested it is a different approach to restraining gun violence, and the issue is less about Sanders supporting gun manufacturers and more about favoring legislation over lawsuits.

The Clinton campaign also developed an attack against Sanders, which baselessly suggests criminals are bringing guns from the senator’s home state of Vermont into New York. It is not backed up by any federal data, and in fact, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, a Clinton supporter and superdelegate, conceded it was not accurate.

Clinton Falsely Claims Sanders Doesn’t Recognize Financial Reform Legislation Was Passed

Clinton slammed Sanders over his remarks on breaking up the big banks during her interview with Thrush.

“My plan to rein in Wall Street is far more comprehensive and actually focused on the problems of the future than what he’s saying,” Clinton argued. “You know, it took me a while, after hearing him in the campaign, to realize he was talking as though Dodd-Frank never passed. He was talking about ‘We need to, you know, break up the big banks’ and he was saying things like ‘On my first day, that’s what I’ll do.’ And I stopped one day and I thought, ‘Dodd-Frank was passed, the toughest regulations since the Great Depression, and, in fact, there is now a process to break up the banks if that is what is called for.’

Clinton’s remarks stem from his meeting with the editorial board of the New York Daily News. The establishment news media has reported Sanders doesn’t know how to break up big banks, but it is hard to take Clinton’s attack seriously when part of his answer was, “How you go about doing it is having legislation passed, or giving the authority to the secretary of treasury to determine, under Dodd-Frank, that these banks are a danger to the economy over the problem of too-big-to-fail.”

Sanders spoke about Dodd-Frank. He claimed he would have authority under Dodd-Frank legislation to impose requirements on banks like JPMorgan Chase in order to protect the economy.

Mike Konczal of The Roosvelt Institute, a progressive think tank, described Sanders’ plan. He has two steps that involve passing legislation and having the secretary of treasury make determinations about whether banks are “too big to fail.” It is “most efficient” to let banks determine how to reconfigure their institutions so they no longer pose a risk to citizens.

Clinton also stated, “I have a record when it comes to the financial industries market. I have a long history of opposing a lot of what they’re doing, trying to change behaviors, I–and I never voted for a bill that unleashed swaps and derivatives, the way Sen. Sanders did. So my record is actually quite a contrast with his record, when you really look at what caused the collapse in ’08.”

This is Clinton’s way of blaming Sanders for something her husband, Bill Clinton, did when he was president. Clinton signed the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which deregulated financial markets. Like columnist Robert Scheer wrote, the legislation ensured his wife “would have massive Wall Street contributions for her Senate run,” and Sanders, along with other members of Congress, was “blackmailed into voting for the bill because it was tucked into omnibus legislation needed to keep the government operating.”

Plus, Clinton is right that there is quite a contrast between their records. Sanders never has given a paid speech to a big bank, which bore responsibility for the economic collapse. Meanwhile, Clinton demanded $225,000 or more to speak to Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, Fidelity Investments UBS, and Deutsche Bank, and she refuses to release transcripts of her speeches to Goldman Sachs.

“A Relatively New Democrat:” Clinton Attacks Sanders’ Political Identity

In the interview with Thrush, Clinton said, “I don’t understand how you wouldn’t want to elect down-ballot Democrats, starting in this election, which is why I’ve been raising money for the Democratic Party, because I believe the more we build up our organization, the more prepared we are, it will not only help me in November, it will help lift up and elect other Democrats as well.”

She suggested Sanders is “a relatively new Democrat, and, in fact, I’m not even sure he is one,” and repeated a wild argument that he supposedly attacks Obama and Bill Clinton more than President George W. Bush in his campaign.

Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart helped the Clinton campaign by testing this attack last week. It amounts to a petty admonition against Sanders because he does not show an appreciation for Clinton’s fundraising and instead attacks her, since she relies on wealthy donors and individuals affiliated with corporate and special interests and lacks the more egalitarian fundraising machine powering his campaign with small dollar donations.

It smacks of desperation. Clinton thinks she can wield the loyalty of Democrats to vilify Sanders and emphasizes that he is not one of us. It does not matter where Sanders stands on the issues or what his record represents. To her, he does not deserve to be the Democratic Party’s nominee because he has not put in the time she has building the Democratic Party into a largely corporate party, which has been unresponsive to poor and working class Americans up until his populist campaign.

She also repeated an attack against young people, who support Sanders, which could backfire on her campaign.

“I think that there is a persistent, organized effort to misrepresent my record, and I don’t appreciate that, and I feel sorry for a lot of the young people who are fed this list of misrepresentations,” Clinton argued. She said it was “absolutely” the case that the Sanders campaign was “goading” supporters into believing lies about her.

David Axelrod, a former campaign strategist for both of Obama’s presidential campaigns, said, “I would stay away from the insinuation that these young people who are inspired by Bernie Sanders are dupes and they are being fed misinformation and that is why they are enthusiastic about Bernie Sanders.”

Clinton would not escalate attacks if she was not worried she might be embarrassed and lose New York, and many of the other upcoming states. The campaign conditioned voters to reflexively declare the math did not favor Sanders winning the nomination. Yet, in an email to supporters before the Wisconsin primary, the campaign declared, “The nomination isn’t locked up yet, and we’ve got to keep fighting for every vote if we want to see Hillary Clinton in the White House.”

The once-inevitable Democratic nominee (as her campaign claimed) recognizes there is a battle to be won. Commentator Van Jones, appearing on “Democracy Now!” said New York is a “war to settle the score.” Jones said, “You’re going to see a vetting of Bernie Sanders like you’ve never seen.”

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."