Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who has spent a considerable amount of time boosting Hillary Clinton’s campaign, offered advice in February on how to change the narrative so people of color were discouraged from supporting Bernie Sanders.
The advice was sent in an email to Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, which was published as part of a third batch of emails released by WikiLeaks.
“Nevada is an opportunity to fight back on so many levels,” Perez argued. “First, the current storyline is that she does not connect well with young voters. Given that Nevada is far more demographically representative of America, I am confident that HRC can do well with all African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans (don’t forget the sizeable [sic] population of Asian Americans in Nevada, including Filipinos.).”
Perez continued, “Emmy and the team have a good plan to attract all minority voters. When we do well there, then the narrative changes from Bernie kicks ass among young voters to Bernie does well only among young white liberals—that is a different story and a perfect lead in to South Carolina, where once again, we can work to attract young voters of color. So I think Nevada is a real opportunity, and I would strongly urge HRC to get out there within a couple days of [New Hampshire].”
Like others in Clinton’s campaign, he described Nevada as Clinton’s “firewall” and was unconcerned about how minorities would feel if they were described in such an exploitative way.
Clinton only won African Americans decisively in the Nevada caucus, according to entrance polls. But more Latinos voted for Sanders so Nevada did not make it abundantly clear that Sanders was incapable of attracting support from people of color.
Regardless, the Clinton campaign relied on the weaponization of identity and a politics of division to cast Sanders as a campaign for angry white people. It had an impact on discourse about the Sanders campaign and influenced supporters, like Salon’s Amanda Marcotte, who played a big role in the election folklore around “Bernie Bros.”
Marcotte wrote in March, “The Democratic case that their party is the party for everyone is undermined if the people who have traditionally held power in our society for most of its history, white men, continue to control the direction of the party. Sanders [would] probably win women and people of color in a general, but they [would] be voting for a candidate the white men picked.”
Considering how the Clinton campaign was explicitly interested in isolating Sanders by smearing him as some messiah for angry white men, what Marcotte wrote is even more disgusting. People of color were driven away from the Sanders campaign because people like Perez and others worked intensely to make him appear out-of-touch with minorities.
There was never evidence Sanders supporters were motivated by white male angst. In fact, American National Elections Studies found white identity was more important to Clinton supporters than Sanders supporters.
Perez also advised Clinton, “In my HRC advocacy, I now say how these people don’t have the time to wait for Senator Sanders to complete his quest for the perfect health care system, or the perfect immigration reform bill.”
“It gets a lot of good nods, especially when I talk about Kennedy McCain immigration and how Bernie opposed this, and immigrants are still suffering the consequences of inaction.”
In other words, the pain and suffering of minorities, to Perez, was something Clinton could rely upon to discourage minority voters from supporting radical change promoted by Sanders. If the campaign convinced them to be afraid and uncertain, they would support a technocrat, who triages the status quo and only commits to incremental changes, which are manageable to the system.