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Analysis | Hillary Clinton’s warning to Democrats: Don’t be like Bernie

The Washington Post logoThe Washington Post 5 days ago Aaron Blake
In this June 5, 2017 photo, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at a fundraiser for the Elijah Cummings Youth Program in Israel in Baltimore. © AP Photo/Patrick Semansky In this June 5, 2017 photo, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at a fundraiser for the Elijah Cummings Youth Program in Israel in Baltimore.

We knew from an excerpt of her book leaked last week that Hillary Clinton wasn't particularly thrilled with the campaign Bernie Sanders ran against her. But in an interview released Tuesday, she really picked Sanders apart — at length.

Talking to the former Obama aides who now run the popular “Pod Save America” podcast, Clinton roundly denounced and dismissed not just Sanders's campaign but basically his entire political ethos, suggesting it's overly simplistic and awful for the Democratic Party. And at a time when Sanders's “Medicare for all” proposal just happens to be catching fire among top Democrats, it's difficult not to read this as Clinton's effort to arrest the party's tilting toward Sanders.

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On the podcast, Clinton basically suggested that Sanders had no 2016 strategy except to promise impractical, more extreme things than she did:

His claims, which he could not defend — really not even explain, when pressed — filled up a lot of space. You know, when I was running against President Obama in 2008, we had differences, but they were — and this is my bias — but they were honest differences that we presented and we defended. And whether it was an individual mandate or not on health care, each of us was ready to say here’s why or here’s why not. That was not possible in this primary campaign. And I point out that every time we made a claim on what we were going to do, he would just say, “Okay, and I’m going to do more of it.” So the argument was never adequately joined. And I spent a lot of time, you know, basically defending President Obama in a Democratic primary. I couldn’t believe it.

That's pretty damning. As in that book excerpt, the idea that Sanders isn't really a Democrat and doesn't have that party's interest at heart came up regularly — along with the idea that Sanders was tilting at windmills:

I was running against somebody who publicly advocated President Obama being primaried. Right? So it was difficult to have what I considered to be a fair-minded debate about, “Okay we have a successful, two-term president, where do we go from here?” with somebody who wasn’t a Democrat, who criticized both President Obama and me. It was much more challenging to have a kind of straightforward argument about, “Okay, health care: What do we do about health care?” Because he would say, “Oh we’re gonna, you know, do single-payer.” And I would say, “How you gonna do it?” And “Uhh” — he wouldn’t know. But the claim and the laying down of the gauntlet on that made it harder.

Clinton repeatedly suggested Sanders benefited from a double standard in which he didn't have to explain the practicality of his positions. She also suggested he succeeded in large part simply because people are “bored” and don't like the status quo:

If I had said, “Okay we’re going to have universal health care — single-payer.” First question would have been, “Well, why didn’t President Obama do that?” Well because it was really hard and what he got done was amazing. See that’s tough, whereas Sanders, who’s not even a Democrat, who criticized the president all the time, he could say whatever he wanted to say. I was not only running on my own; I was running to build on the progress of the prior eight years. I was unapologetic about that. But I also knew the head winds of trying to succeed a two-term president of your own party were pretty intense. I mean, Americans get bored, they get tired, they want a change, they think somebody else can do something better, even though they liked Bill Clinton and they liked Barack Obama. But they want change.

She also complained about the lack of “respect” she got from Sanders and his backers, suggesting she was much more of a team player after her loss to Obama in the 2008 primary. She said Sanders “dragged it out”:

I didn't get anything like that respect from Sanders and his supporters. And it hurt, you know, to have basically captured the nomination, ending up with more than 4 million votes than he had. But he dragged it out, and he was so reluctant. But why would we be surprised? He’s not a Democrat. And that’s not a slam on him; that’s just a repetition of what he says about himself.

Clinton even slipped in a mention of Sanders's opposition to a comprehensive immigration reform bill while discussing how that issue played not in the primary, but in the general election:

I’m for immigration reform — Sanders voted against it in 2007 — so I’m trying to say we’re going to protect what we have, but we’re going to try to go further. Now, that’s not as exciting as saying, ‘Throw them all out,’ or whatever the alternative is. It was constant calibration, and it was a tough line to walk.

Clinton may not have intended her book tour to dwell so much on the Democratic primary — her public comments before this week, after all, have focused more on how she was wronged in the general election — but the timing of her book's release wound up being fortuitous. Sanders will release his single-payer bill on Wednesday, and several top 2020 Democratic hopefuls have jumped onboard in recent days.

That has the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Charles E. Schumer concerned about their party's drift toward what they view as impractical and divisive proposals like single-payer. But Clinton was really the first top Democrat to deal with the party's conflict between what leaders view as reality and the base's Sanders-ian ideals. And so now Clinton has been thrust into a replaying of the 2016 primary right alongside her party's titular leaders.

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