Donald Trump has made it clear that he’s paying attention to Bernie Sanders’ sharpest critiques of Hillary Clinton and plans to use them if she’s the nominee—just as he has mimicked other Sanders stances. So why isn’t Hillary embracing Bernie’s best ideas?
That question came into sharper relief in this past week, after Trump secured the GOP nomination after Indiana's primary and Sanders upset Clinton and pledged to keep running despite her large lead in delegates. With the prospect that Clinton will be attacked by both Trump and Sanders as the primary season continues, one wonders why she is not doing more to embrace his best ideas.
At a speech Friday in Oakland, California, Clinton said that she had better ideas than Sanders for cutting college tuition and health care costs. She briefly praised Sanders’ team, reminded Democrats there is more uniting them than not, and urged supporters to help get out the vote for her in the state's June 7 primary. But mostly, she ignored Sanders' ideas and focused on criticizing Trump.
Trump, in contrast, has said that he not only likes what Sanders has been saying, but would use his core critique from New York’s red-hot primary against Clinton: that she lacks the judgment to be president. “I’m going to be taking a lot of the things Bernie said and using them,” Trump told the Morning Joe show on MSNBC at that time.
“I can reread some of his speeches and get some very good material," Trump continued. "He said some things about her that are actually surprising. That essentially she has no right to even be running. She’s got bad judgment. When he said bad judgment, I said, ‘Sound bite!’”
Trump also has recited Sanders’ critique of trade deals, the Iraq War, Clinton’s Goldman-Sach’s speeches, and even slammed Medicare prescription drug price gouging as he paints himself on the side of frustrated Americans. As he said on the eve of Indiana's primary, “I think a lot of the Bernie Sanders young people are going to join my campaign, and I see it all the time… because nobody’s stronger on trade than me.”
That was hardly the first time Trump copied Sanders or made a play for his base. In New Hampshire, Trump went after drug companies for overcharging Medicare. Like Sanders, he wanted the feds to use its clout to get lower prices, even though Congress banned that in GOP-led legislation.
But beyond the issue of Clinton’s judgment—and every candidate believes they are wiser and worldlier than their opponents—and selected topics like trade and drug prices, there’s another big issue where Trump is likely to more than copy Sanders: accusing Clinton of being corrupted by speechmaking and Clinton Foundation fundraising. It hardly matters that ruthlessly becoming obscenely rich has been Trump’s credo for decades.
Trump is already calling her “Crooked Hillary.” As he tweeted this week, “I would rather run against Crooked Hillary Clinton than Bernie Sanders and that will happen because the books are cooked against Bernie!” And “Crooked Hillary Clinton, perhaps the most dishonest person to have ever run for the presidency.”
As BusinessInsider.com noted, the GOP and Sanders campaign sometimes are using the same attack: “On Monday, the Sanders campaign and the Republican National Committee blasted out to reporters a Politico story within four minutes of each other. The story said that the Clinton campaign has benefited massively from the money it has raised for Democratic state parties, which have received comparatively little in return.”
Sanders, for his part, dismissed the notion that Trump needs him to go after Clinton, and said Trump is obviously trying to grab his supporters. “If I lose the nomination, he will not get that support,” he said. “If I lose the nomination, and we’re here to do everything we can to win it, I will fight as hard as I can to make certain that Donald Trump does not become president of the United States.”
Nonetheless, it is notable that Clinton has barely budged when it comes to adopting his ideas—unless they generally agreed on an issue and he forced her to be more specific, such as during their debates when she said she would not allow cuts to Social Security. But, as was the case in her Oakland speech on Friday, she stuck to her plan, in this case saying she would target low-income women for increased benefits before anyone else. In Oakland, she said his proposal for free tuition at state colleges and universities was not realistic given Republican governors who would not fund it, and said a better approach was making all student loans interest-free.
Why is she drawing a hard line with Sanders' ideas? Earlier this winter, the noted Massachusetts-based columnist, Mike Barnicle, wrote that Sanders and Trump are both energizing slices of America that have been overlooked and forgotten by the political elites. He said the country is filled with regions “that had been waiting for a Trump or a Sanders to show up with a vehicle ready-made for the forgotten to drive home a point to a political system uniquely incapable of addressing the lives, income, and optimism lost.”
That observation suggests another reason why Clinton might be reluctant to grab any of Sanders’ core messages, especially as he’s still going after the nomination. It’s possible her team could think that the best way to beat Trump is the way that she has pretty much beaten Sanders—by putting forth her plans and not his, since there are elements of their disaffected bases that are similar.
But while Clinton has fought her way to the Democratic nomination by aiming at women and communities of color, especially their older members, an odd pattern has emerged. Trump has increasingly taken note of Sanders’ strongest lines of attack while Clinton generally has not. Maybe that will change once the Democratic nominee is finalized, but it also makes one wonder if her team is making a big mistake, especially as millions of people under ag 45 have flocked to Sanders.