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Clinton Democrats Struggle To Move On From 2016 As Bernie Sanders Announces 2020 Campaign

Senator Bernie Sanders announced he was running for president in 2020, and on February 19, a switch was flipped. In 24 hours, nearly $6 million was raised through a grassroots machine which he largely built during the 2016 presidential election when he challenged Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party’s nomination.

But for those who backed Clinton and believe Sanders bears some responsibility for her loss to President Donald Trump, they were quick to display their resentment. Some of them even dusted off opposition research they had lying around and deployed it.

Philippe Reines, a political consultant and former Clinton adviser, appeared on MSNBC. He claimed Sanders had not reached out to any of the 17 million, who did not vote for him in 2016. This is false. Sanders visited several states in the south in April 2018, including South Carolina, to make inroads with black voters.

He fueled the notion that Sanders has not done enough to convince his supporters that Clinton beat him fair and square, even though there is a lot of evidence that the Democratic Party rigged the primary to make it easier for Clinton to win.

Reines said Sanders has “diminished the role of Russia’s interference,” which also is not true. He has said Russia interfered in the 2016 election to benefit Trump. But what Reines means is that he has not generated panic over Russia like most Democrats, so that should count against him.

“It seems like there’s an arrogance among Sanders supporters,” Reines added.

Waleed Shahid, who is a communications director for Justice Democrats, told Reines that Sanders supporters are “not going to pay attention to what consultants in Washington or what donors on Wall Street think.”

“The people driving a wedge to re-litigate the 2016 Democratic primaries are missing that voters don’t really want to rehash old news,” Shahid declared after the segment. “They want leaders who will fight for solutions as big as the problems we face.”

That prompted Reines to act like Sanders supporters refuse to accept “basic arithmetic,” that Clinton received nearly 4 million more votes than Sanders in the 2016 primaries. “Many of the 17 million are undecided 2020 primary voters who want the diminishment of their vote to stop,” Reines said, as though he was taking up some kind of righteous cause.

“I don’t believe learning from 2016 means sweeping tensions under the rug,” Reines separately declared.

Reines has a point. There are clear differences between the Democratic Party establishment that went with Clinton over Sanders, and to the extent that they still cling to neoliberal politics over visionary grassroots policies for advancing justice, tensions should be brought out into the open and those Democrats should be fiercely challenged.

Jess McIntosh, a former senior communications advisor to Clinton, jumped all over an inartful remark Sanders made to Vermont Public Radio when asked if he can best represent the “face of the Democratic Party.” The question was clearly aimed at his identity, as in whether an older white male should be the Democratic Party nominee in 2020.

“We have got to look at candidates, you know, not by the color of their skin, not by their sexual orientation or their gender and not by their age,” Sanders responded. “I mean, I think we have got to try to move us toward a non-discriminatory society, which looks at people based on their abilities, based on what they stand for.”

McIntosh argued, “This is usually an argument made by people who don’t enjoy outsized respect and credibility because of their race, gender, aged, and sexual orientation.” She also added, “If Bernie is going to start this contest telling us he’s at a disadvantage as a white man, it is going to be a LONG year.”

But Sanders did not say he has it hard as a white candidate. He attempted to answer a question about whether an older white male should represent the Democratic Party, when there are candidates like Senators Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren in the race. And he was arguing his qualifications should not be based on his identity; the focus should be on his platform, record, and the potential of a Sanders administration instead.

That is exactly what Booker, Harris, or Warren would ask of voters as well, and it is no different from President Barack Obama, who largely chose to run as a post-racial politician. No candidate wants to be tokenized.

Amanda Marcotte, a Salon contributor who popularized this whole idea of “Bernie bros” in 2016—effectively erasing women or people of color who supported his campaign, took zero-sum identity politics to an absurd level.

“Bernie’s fundraising isn’t really a surprise. His base of support is well-off white guys, who have some cash to spare and are really hyped to box out the up-and-coming candidates,” Marcotte contended. “But I suspect the other, mostly female front runners may have a quiet advantage: the same women who put in the time and shoe leather that won the Democrats the 2018 midterms.”

She added, “Women may not have as much money to give, but they’ve been better at organizing and putting in the work,” and, “It’ll be interesting to see this play out. What wins: Men writing checks or women knocking on doors? The answer might have impacts beyond just this election cycle.”

In reality, Michael Whitney, managed Sanders’ digital fundraising program in 2016, shared, “The plurality occupation of Bernie donors in 2016 was unemployed or retired. The #2 occupation was student. The modal donor was 27 years old, and a 41 percent plurality were under 39 years old. So the most common donor was an unemployed young person or student.”

Bakari Sellers, a former Clinton surrogate and pundit who frequently appears on CNN, said, “I don’t have a problem with Bernie getting in the race, ‘when is he getting out’ is probably a better question.”

A former Clinton campaign spokesperson, Karen Finney, acknowledged Trump’s reaction to Sanders entering the race and suggested Trump was “defending” Sanders, although he was clearly trying to provoke Clinton Democrats and re-open wounds from 2016. Not long after, Trump’s 2020 campaign sent out an email to supporters warning of “full-blown socialism.” All Finney did was stir up more resentment toward Sanders.

David Brock, a consultant who founded a SuperPAC that helped boost Clinton’s 2016 campaign, shared an article he wrote in January warning Sanders supporters plan to “poison” the primary with attacks like they did during the previous election. The hypocrisy of Brock is stunning given the fact that he was involved in pushing some of the more dishonest attacks and rumors against Sanders that surfaced during the election.

And then, there is Zac Petkanas, who was the rapid response director for Clinton’s 2016 campaign. He took some of the opposition research the Clinton campaign had available and wrote a column for NBC News outlining the basics of how his Democratic Party opponents could attack him in 2020.

On top of that, Petkanas tweeted, “The problem for Bernie Sanders is that he’s on record stating repeatedly that consistency is really important for a leader. Other candidates can talk about how they’ve evolved and learn from mistakes. Sanders has boxed himself in on that front in his zealous attacks on Hillary.”

Petkanas also claimed he has no problem with Sanders being a socialist and not a “registered Democrat.” He apparently likes Sanders’ policy ideas for health care, income inequality, and education. However, he thinks Sanders opposes gun safety and that should disqualify him.

In 2015, following the San Bernardino mass shooting, Sanders stated, “We need to significantly expand and improve background checks.” He indicated support for an assault weapons ban, a ban against selling high capacity magazines, more criminalization of gun trafficking, an end to the gun show loophole that allows “gun purchasers to buy a gun after a waiting period expires without a completed background check,” an end to loopholes that “allow domestic abusers and stalkers to obtain guns,” and increased penalties against straw purchasers who “buy guns from licensed dealers on behalf of someone prohibited from purchasing a gun.”

What Petkanas insists is voters should not forgive Sanders for being on the wrong side of the issue of gun safety, even if he supports gun safety proposals now. Primarily, they should do so because Sanders did not forgive Clinton for being on the wrong side of a number of key issues before she came around to more progressive policies.

It is up to voters to decide whether a candidate is authentic and if they genuinely have evolved. Petkanas refuses to concede that it was not Sanders who was harsh toward Clinton but voters who had a hard time believing she was not merely saying certain things to help her perform better in an election.

More significantly, what makes many Clinton supporters in the establishment bristle the most is the fact that Sanders and his supporters talk about the 2016 election as a success, not a defeat, because proposals like Medicare for All, a $15 minimum wage, free college tuition, a Green New Deal, and rejecting corporate money from PACs are widely popular among the Democratic Base—more popular than when Sanders first ran for president.

Clinton Democrats seem intent to re-litigate the 2016 primary until Sanders supporters submit to their petty political analysis. They still suffer from post-2016 election trauma and struggle to cope in a world where the politics of their opponent are widely viewed as the answer to Trump and very few are clamoring for a Democrat like Clinton to return for a third campaign.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

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