On Monday, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates — who have run a pretty chill primary, all things considered — linked arms at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day rally in South Carolina. Their message was clear: Even as the race narrows and the Iowa caucuses loom, the field is joined in common purpose. Or enough common purpose to keep things civil.
It was a nice twenty-something hours. Because this morning, former candidate Hillary Clinton popped up to zing Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — even demurring on whether she’d support him were he to win the nomination. In an upcoming Hulu series, Clinton says Sanders “was in Congress for years. He had one senator support him. Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done.” When asked if that assessment still holds, Clinton told the Hollywood Reporter, in an interview published this morning, “Yes, it does.”
It’s mind-boggling to see a woman against whom “likability” was so ably weaponized argue that Sanders is unlikable. It’s particularly absurd for Clinton, who was so frustrated by Sanders’ late support of her as the Democratic presidential nominee, to say that she’s unsure if she would support him should he get the nomination. (I’d vote for a sentient sock should it win the Democratic nomination, or even former Vice President Joe Biden, should it come to that, which is to repeat myself.) It’s wild to accuse a competitor’s campaign of relentless negativity while being relentlessly negative three years later about that same campaign.
Meanwhile, the current candidates, including Sanders, have largely kept their messages to the issues. When Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s campaign circulated the rumor that Sanders had said a woman could not win the presidency, Sanders denied the exchange, all while praising Warren as a candidate and a person — an exceptionally difficult line to walk. When a prominent Sanders supporter published an op-ed last week saying that Biden represented Washington, D.C., corruption, Sanders immediately went on television and said, “It is absolutely not my view that Joe is corrupt in any way. And I’m sorry that that op-ed appeared.”
As for Clinton, Sanders has mentioned her precisely once in recent memory — to praise her, and to emphasize his commitment to supporting the Democratic nominee.
“Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 3 million votes,” Sanders said in the most recent presidential debate. “How could anybody in a million years not believe that a woman could become president the United States? And let me be very clear: If any of the women on this stage or any of the men on this stage win the nomination — I hope that’s not the case, I hope it’s me — but if they do, I will do everything in my power to make sure that they are elected in order to defeat the most dangerous president in the history of this country.”
Having learned from the fractious infighting in the 2016 primary, this year’s candidates have taken pains to clarify early and often that they’ll unite behind the eventual nominee, whoever he or she may be. And while heated arguments have occurred, they’re making serious efforts to demonstrate that the field is unified in its values. Meanwhile, Clinton’s reading aloud from her burn book. We’re tired. We’ve read it already.