Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders met in a CNN debate following the Michigan surprise win for the latter. And prior to the important March 15 round of primaries. The debate had a special focus on Hispanic issues with parts of the debate being in Spanish. That is all interesting but the debate gave a peculiar insight in the Hillary Clinton Campaign and what we might term a strange self-belittling by the former secretary of state.
The debate started in a friendly tone. Bait was thrown to Bernie Sanders to go on the attack on the issue of the private email server setup by Hillary Clinton. Sanders presidentially stayed above the fray. Basically saying: We have big problems in this country, here is a list of them, shut up about irrelevant mudslinging topics. It worked well. It looked good. It looked presidential.
What did Hillary Clinton do ?
She started taking more cheap shots. Her weakest moment in the previous debate was to claim Sanders was against helping automotive workers in Michigan. On this evening in Florida she did it again. Repeatedly. Claiming Bernie Sanders was not standing on the side of immigrants. Claiming Bernie Sanders supported vigilante minute men. Yet again claiming he does not stand with automotive workers. And several more.
Why should Hillary Clinton stay away from such attacks? Well for starters, not a single uncommitted person could possibly believe them. They sound like cheap shots, they sound like nasty little chirps taken out of context, they sound like traditional politicians drama with no substance. The only effect of attacking Bernie Sanders from the left is to make herself look like a petty politician, a cheap shot artist and less trustworthy. Exactly what she does not need. And entirely unnecessary.
A Better Political Message For Hillary Clinton ?
Hillary Clinton is winning. Big. Bernie Sanders is way behind and his only chance at this point is to use a fairly sizable minority of delegates to influence the policy at the convention. He can not win. It is pure delegate math. Whoever advised Hillary Clinton to panic about Michigan and react by attacking Bernie Sanders with cheap shots need demoting to coffee-fetcher in the campaign.
She could have played it grand and smart.
When Bernie Sanders yells free college tuition. Hillary answers: “I will fight for everyone getting a good education. Bernies promises might be a bit lofty and difficult to keep, but we agree about the goal“.
When Bernie Sanders yells lets be nicer to illegal immigrants. Hillary stays far away from attacking him and answers: “America was made great by the immigrants we all have as forefathers. I stand with everyone who wants to work in and for America. This is why I have a plan to stop deportations and give every hardworking and lawful immigrant a path to citizenship.
Instead of making silly claims about Sanders supporting vigilante minute-men chasing immigrants at the border with Mexico Hillary says: When Donald Trump and Ted Cruz tries to play to peoples fears. When they use racism and prejudices to create a divided America. When Republicans want to round up people and send them away in cattle-trains. I can only say Stop. Do not believe the fear mongers. In a storm some candidates want to build walls, others want to build windmills. My windmill is a path to citizenship, humane and respectful treatment of all regardless of ancestry, legal jobs for immigrants and a safe future for everyone in America“.
When Bernie yells release the speech transcripts Hillary pulls them out of her handbag and replies: Yes, here they are. I believe in transparency. The republicans do not. Donald Trump still havent shown us his tax returns. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Donald Trump still have not shown us the transcripts of their private speeches. And do you remember what happened the last time a Republican candidate had his private speeches exposed? Mitt Romney was exposed pouring scorn on 47% of Americans. I suspect Donald Trumps private speeches will show him having nothing but scorn for anyone but the top 1% of Americans who plays golf at his billionaire clubs.
Hillary Clinton has every chance of changing to a better political message painting her as a trustworthy and solid choice for president. Attacking Bernie Sanders with irrelevant cheap shots does exactly the opposite.
The Hillary Clinton Campaign
The Hillary Clinton campaign has a problem. But it is not called Bernie Sanders. As discussed before Hillary Clinton really needs Bernie Sanders to stay in the race to keep the Democratic race in focus, to have someone to debate, to have someone harmless to ping pong political issues with. Taking cheap shots at a harmless opponent belittles nobody but Hillary herself.
Instead. Tailor messages that embraces Bernie Sanders. Agree with most of his goals (as in fact she does). But stay presidential. Stay above the fray. Gently point out that his methods of achieving the political goals might not be realistic, but that the goals are valid and worth fighting for none the less. She could even offer him a place in the government in a new “End Poverty in America” capacity or similar.
So. Hillary. You can not help winning the nomination. But if you want to win in November stop running on petty cheap shots. Rise up. And start drawing the contrast to Donald Trump and the rest of the Republican field. Now is the perfect time to do it as Hillary Clintons position as nominee is safe, whereas the republicans still have months of internal fighting to come.
The Hillary Clinton strategy should not be about winning an exchange with Bernie Sanders that will be forgotten in seconds. Or worse. Strengthen a picture of her as untrustworthy and petty. Instead. Play the slightly longer political campaign game, slightly more dignified messaging. And improve those critical perceptions in the process.
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