War is coming to the Democrats: Why Clinton vs. Sanders is about to get very ugly

A pro-Hillary super PAC has introduced a new level of hostility to the 2016 campaign. What's next?

By Jack Mirkinson

Published September 15, 2015 7:40PM (EDT)

  (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst/Carlo Allegri/Photo montage by Salon)
(Reuters/Jonathan Ernst/Carlo Allegri/Photo montage by Salon)

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how Hillary Clinton's vow to avoid negative attacks against Bernie Sanders would evaporate if Sanders starting causing Clinton any real problems. Sanders is now sailing past Clinton in some key polls, and so the attacks have begun.

Correct the Record, a pro-Clinton group which—despite the laughable lack of information you will find about it on its website—is run in coordination with the Clinton campaign by Media Matters chief David Brock—has started going after Sanders. That's not too surprising, but what's notable is the way Correct the Record is doing it: by trying to link Sanders to Jeremy Corbyn, the newly elected leader of the Labour Party in Britain.

Correct the Record sent a detailed email to the Huffington Post yesterday about just how similar it thinks Sanders and Corbyn are. From the HuffPost account:

"The email, sent to a Huffington Post reporter in response to an article about Corbyn and Sanders without any agreement that it would be off the record, was meant to flag Corbyn's "most extreme comments"...The email uses those comments to pivot to "similarities" between Corbyn and Sanders...The "similarities" between the two, according to the email, include Sanders' introduction of legislation to terminate the United States' nuclear weapons program, comments that NATO's expansion into former Soviet states is dangerous because it could provoke Russia, opposition to more U.S. funds for NATO, and saying he "was concerned" that proposed new NATO members had shipped arms to Iran and North Korea."

It must be noted that there are some fundamental differences between Sanders and Corbyn: The latter has been a truly radical activist politician and a thorn in the side of his party for decades, whereas Sanders, while a stalwart champion of progressive causes, has stayed much more resolutely within the lines of the Democratic hierarchy. Despite the email's attempt to link them on foreign affairs, they diverge on key issues there too—especially on the question of Israel. Corbyn is a staunch pro-Palestinian, while Sanders has struck a decidedly more cautious path.

But what's most revealing is how much the Clinton campaign's first line of attack against Sanders reflects her hyper-hawkish foreign policy. What's more, she's essentially aligned herself with David Cameron's Conservatives, who have warned that Corbyn represents a threat to national security, and with the right-wing press in Britain, who have been battering Corbyn relentlessly.

That Clinton's instinct is to reach for the same sort of invective as Rupert Murdoch's tabloids says quite a bit about her campaign's values, and her own. It also gives us a good sneak preview of what's to come if Sanders continues his unexpectedly robust challenge to her quest for the Democratic crown.

Clinton has been trying to reinvent herself as something of an economic populist—partially in an attempt to neutralize Sanders—and has been tacking sharply left on issues like civil rights and criminal justice—an area where she's benefitted from the trouble Sanders has run into. Foreign policy appears to be the one place where she's unwilling to move away from her past stances. Clearly, she both believes in what she's saying and calculates that the public will be either indifferent or supportive. If Sanders keeps up his momentum, it's quite possible that Clinton will choose foreign policy as her key disagreement with him and try to paint him as a danger to American security. Whatever happens, it's all too apparent that things will get nastier between Clinton and Sanders before they get nicer.

Jack Mirkinson

Jack Mirkinson is a writer living in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @jackmirkinson.

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