Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton (Reuters/Lucy Nicholson/Brian Snyder/Photo montage by Salon)

The Bernie-Hillary death match is here: Why the Democratic primary is going to get very ugly

Sanders is giving Clinton a run for her money in Iowa and New Hampshire, and now the gloves are coming off


Bob Cesca
January 21, 2016 3:57PM (UTC)

According to Nate Silver's latest projection, Bernie Sanders is now favored to win the New Hampshire primary. For the first time in the campaign, Silver's algorithm has projected a 63 percent chance of the Vermont Democrat winning the first-in-the-nation primary, next to Hillary Clinton's 37 percent. (Reminder: These are the odds of winning, not poll numbers, which are generally closer together.)

Meanwhile, Sanders is taking increasingly pointed shots at Clinton, and in particular in the one area where she has a serious edge over her more liberal rival. During a town hall on Tuesday, Sanders was asked about foreign policy, and began with a backhanded compliment about his rival's own experience in the area. But there are two words from Sanders' remarks that represent a painful, strafing pass at the former Secretary of State. According to The Washington Post, Sanders said:

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"I think on the crucial foreign policy issue of our time, it turns out that Secretary Clinton, with all of her experience, was wrong and I was right. Experience is important. Dick Cheney had a lot of experience. A whole lot of people have experience but do not necessarily have the right judgment. I think I have the right judgment to conduct sensible foreign policy."

So, not only did Sanders hit Clinton for her vote to support the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against Iraq -- which, naturally, gave the George W. Bush administration a blank check to conduct its frivolous invasion and occupation -- but he also went on to directly compare Clinton to perhaps the most horrendous villain in the conservative rogues gallery: former Vice President Dick Cheney. In other words, we shouldn't count on Clinton's foreign policy experience alone because clearly she's capable of making decisions that are as misguided and dangerous as Cheney's warmongering.

But that wasn't Sanders' only verbal assault on Clinton and her allies.

During an interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, Sanders took a shot at both Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign, each of which recently endorsed Hillary Clinton.

Said Sanders:

"I have friends and supporters in the Human Rights Fund [sic] and Planned Parenthood. But, you know what? Hillary Clinton has been around there for a very, very long time. Some of these groups are, in fact, part of the establishment."

Obviously, "establishment" is intended as a cut. And, regarding Planned Parenthood, it's difficult to see it in such a light, given how nearly half of all states as well as one third of the U.S. government is trying to de-fund and kill it.

In response, Clinton tweeted the following:

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To be fair, Sanders didn't explicitly say he'd take on Planned Parenthood in his effort to upend the establishment, but Clinton's counterattack raises a good point. Simply because he's unhappy about Planned Parenthood's endorsement of Clinton, Sanders has opted to characterize the healthcare provider as part of the establishment and therefore part of the problem, given the anti-establishment theme of his candidacy.

Again, it's a rather odd approach, especially knowing what Planned Parenthood has endured over the last 12 months. On top of the de-funding campaign, there's also been multiple terrorist attacks against its facilities and a coordinated smear campaign orchestrated by the far-right Center for Medical Progress (CMP), joined by the GOP which is actively legislating based on the falsified CMP videos.

While Hillary Clinton is far from innocent when it comes to going negative against Sanders, and Sanders' subsequent counterattacks are certainly expected given the climate and stakes leading into Iowa and New Hampshire, his anti-establishment attacks have perhaps had another inadvertent effect: Shedding doubt on the Obama administration's legacy.

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Indeed, there appears to be an emerging sense that Sanders is running against the Obama record as part of his crusade against the establishment on both sides. Listening to Sanders, it's sometimes difficult to tell whether the current president is a failed Democrat or a successful Republican, and maybe that's his point. While it's hard to argue that significant progress hasn't been made over the last eight years, and not just economically, the theme of the Sanders campaign might as well be "It's Midnight in America."

And yet, there's must be a way to push for more change -- and even a political revolution -- without throwing the previous friendly administration under a bus.

Both Clinton and Sanders would do well at this point to holster some of their more destructive attacks, including, in Sanders' case, attacks against Obama-era successes. Already, the climate on the Democratic side is increasingly resembling the 2008 fracas, which nearly split the party. The animosity between the supporters of the dueling camps has unnecessarily disillusioned both sides, prompting up to 14 percent of Democrats to refuse to vote for the nominee unless it's their nominee. To repeat: I'm including Clinton in this dynamic because she's going just as negative against Sanders as Sanders is against her.

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The Democratic mission ought to be threefold: 1) Beating the Republicans; 2) Acting like political grownups; and 3) Beating the Republicans. (Beating the Republicans is listed twice because it's really important.) None of this is competently achieved if each side is brutally undermining the other. The stakes are too high to risk weakening the Democratic nominee, be it Sanders or Clinton, and yet the Democratic mudslinging appears to be getting worse. And that's bad news for everyone come November.

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Bob Cesca

Bob Cesca is a regular contributor to Salon. He's also the host of "The Bob Cesca Show" podcast, and a weekly guest on both the "Stephanie Miller Show" and "Tell Me Everything with John Fugelsang." Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Contribute through LaterPay to support Bob's Salon articles -- all money donated goes directly to the writer.

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