The Bernie Sanders 2016 boom has reached a critical threshold: it is now significant enough to be the target of nonsensical attacks from the Clinton universe. Sanders has been coming on hot in recent polling, overtaking Hillary in New Hampshire and threatening to pull even (or ahead) in Iowa. Up to this point, Clinton’s campaign has barely acknowledged Sanders’ existence and has maintained its critical focus on the Republican presidential candidates. But as the Huffington Post reports this morning, the Clinton-aligned super PAC Correct the Record is now dabbling in some very silly attacks on Sanders, looping in the democratic socialist senator as part of the international socialist conspiracy:
A super PAC backing Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is going negative, circulating an email that yokes her chief rival Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to some of the more controversial remarks made by Jeremy Corbyn, the United Kingdom's new Labour Party leader, including his praise for the late Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan leader who provided discounted fuel to Vermont in a deal supported by Sanders.
THE RED MENACE! As HuffPo lays out, the gist of the email is that Corbyn, a long-serving socialist Member of Parliament, has made some “extreme comments,” and that there are “similarities” between Corbyn and Sanders. Correct the Record is also apparently trying to make the case that Sanders was totally best buds with now-deceased Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez:
The more serious stretch comes as the email highlights how Sanders helped negotiate a program with Venezuela's national oil company in 2006 that provided discounted heating oil assistance to low-income Vermonters. The senator said it was "not a partisan issue," in the state, which was the sixth to make the deal. His support for the program was apparently enough to merit a mention, since Corbyn has written that the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez's "electoral democratic credentials are beyond reproach."
This is the sort of lame degrees-of-separation attack that hapless conservative bloggers have deployed against Barack Obama for the better part of a decade. A controversial person said a controversial thing, and Obama/Sanders has a tangential, superficial link to that person, so clearly there’s a huge scandal here. It’s a tactic you see deployed when one side has an interest in portraying its opponent as dangerously extreme, but lacks any real, compelling evidence of their opponents’ disqualifying radicalism. Correct the Record is highlighting the radicalism of a third party, drawing the thinnest of lines back to Sanders, and claiming to be troubled by the “similarities” they’ve just invented.
I’m also genuinely puzzled as to the political logic behind this attack. It’s difficult to see how transparent red-baiting of this sort would find a sympathetic audience among liberals and Democratic primary voters. Claire McCaskill, a Senate colleague of Sanders and a Clinton supporter, tested out a similar version of this attack over the summer, going on TV and calling Sanders “extreme” and “too liberal” and reminding everyone that “he’s a socialist.” The party and its base have spent the past seven years rolling their eyes at people like Sarah Palin who describe everything the Democrats do as “socialism” – why would they respond favorably to an intramural version of this same dumb jab?
If anything, the attack is helpful to Sanders, given his opposition to super PACs and other outside money groups as corrupting forces in politics. Correct the Record is aggressively testing the boundaries of campaign finance law by directly coordinating with the Clinton campaign, which is technically prohibited by our gauzy and barely enforceable laws on election spending. An attack coming from a group like this fits right into Sanders’ message about the poisoning effect of money in politics.