Wednesday’s debate was the first debate after a surprising loss for Hillary Clinton in Michigan, and the former secretary of state was particularly critical of Bernie Sanders on the debate stage in Miami.
But many of the attacks she launched are either only partially true, or outright lies.
And if she keeps up this tactic of trying to smear Sanders’ voting record to portray him as a friend of conservative causes, it may have serious consequences for the general election.
Back in January, Clinton claimed that Sanders voted for the Commodities Futures Modernization Act, or CFMA, and I wrote that it was the most disingenuous attack from Clinton yet.
That’s because Sanders had voted against the CFMA originally, but bit the bullet and voted for the CFMA when it was shoved into an omnibus spending bill at the last minute and everybody in Congress except Ron Paul and three others voted for it.
She made that attack back before the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary, and the claim that Sanders voted for the CFMA and contributed to the financial crisis seemed to simply fade away.
Then, during the March 6 democratic debate in Flint Michigan, Clinton tried to cast Sanders as an enemy of the US auto-industry.
Except that Sanders strongly supported the auto bailout, what he opposed was the larger $700 billion bailout to prop up Wall Street and the Big Banks.
Politifact rated her claim as only “Half-True,” and The Washington Post and The New York Times both published articles describing how Clinton is intentionally deceiving voters with this claim.
As Amber Phillips over at The Washington Post wrote after the debate in Flint, “It seems like she’s willing to take the gamble that fact-checkers may call her out for her tactic Sunday, but that voters won’t.”
The Washington Post published that before Tuesday’s Michigan primary, when Sanders won an historic upset over Clinton after the polls projected a 20-point loss for Sanders.
The Clinton campaign could have looked at that loss as evidence that she lost Michigan because voters were turned off by her deceitful portrayal of Sanders’ voting record, but apparently that’s not how her campaign interpreted the results.
The New York Times editorial board wrote that “Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy speaks eloquently of embracing the people, values and thinking that make this nation a leader in the world. But her campaign tactics, particularly in Michigan, did not live up to this mission.”
And based on the polls, her attacks on Sanders really aren’t helping her in the eyes of voters.
According to a new Washington Post-ABC poll, Clinton’s margin over Sanders has shrunk by more than half of where it was in January before the first primary votes were cast.
The New York Times editorial board wrote bluntly before Wednesday’s debate that, “If she hopes to unify Democrats as the nominee, trying to tarnish Mr. Sanders as she did in Michigan this week is not the way to go.”
Clinton must not have gotten that memo.
The same day that The New York Times called for the campaign to stop trying to attack Sanders on the auto bailout, Clinton Campaign Manager Robby Mook was telling CBS News and Mother Jones: “That is an important distinction between Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders. We think it’s important that voters know that information.”
So it doesn’t seem like the campaign is going to stop muddying the waters with half truths about the auto bailout anytime soon.
And based on what we saw in the debate in Miami, she’s expanding her range of half-true attacks against Sanders.
To be clear, Sanders never supported the “Minute Men.”
Sanders did not support indefinite detention, in fact, Sen. Sanders voted for the National Defense Authorization Act when it prevented indefinite detention, but that bill was tampered with by members of the House.
Sanders didn’t vote against small business in Florida when he voted to end the Export-Import Bank, but he did vote for ending some of the corporate welfare that Boeing and General Electric get from the US government.
When Clinton says that Sanders wants to “delay” the Clean Power Plan, she really means that it might take a little bit longer to fully implement because Sanders’ plan is more ambitious than Clinton’s or Obama’s.
Clinton is trying to make it look like Sanders talks progressive but votes conservative, and it’s not working.
It’s not working because we live in the internet age where facts can be checked and the record corrected nearly instantaneously.
And it’s not working because the “Clinton” name isn’t synonymous with honesty in US politics, it’s synonymous with half-truths, distorted facts and nitpicking-“Depends-on-what-your-definition-of-the-word-‘is’-is”-semantics.
Clinton says it’s time for the party to rally behind her so that the Democrats can start working to win in November, but she’s spent the past week trying to tarnish Sanders’ image with voters.
And after Sanders’ win in Michigan, it should be clear that he’s not quitting any time soon.
Clinton needs to fire Robby Mook and John Podesta (assuming these top guys in her campaign are the source of this terrible advice), and she needs to cut ties with David Brock and the rest of the inside-the-beltway conventional wisdom establishment strategists who want her to keep attacking Sanders’ record with half-truths and twisted facts.
Democrats won’t win in November if Clinton keeps twisting the truth about Sanders’ record and alienating his supporters in the process.
If Clinton wants a strong, energized and unified Democratic party backing whoever the democratic candidate is in November, she needs to reorient her campaign to a positive message and stop trying to tarnish Sanders.