Uncle Bernie's Terrible Horrible No-Good Very Bad Month

To some it may have seemed at first like an April Fool's joke. Bernie Sanders, who traveled from relative obscurity to mount an attention-grabbing challenge to Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton based largely on the issue of "breaking up" large financial institutions seemed not to have an actual plan to do so when questioned by the editorial board of the New York Daily News. "It's something I have not studied," he said, when asked about legal issues surrounding the government attempt to regulate Metropolitan Life. Like Trump surrogates, Sanders apologists complained that a president didn't need to have an actual plan to do anything, but could just "set policy." Slate's Jordan Weissman suggested that the real issue it's difficult to take Sanders seriously on re financial reform is that he's too narrowly focused on breaking up the big banks, while not addressing "shadow banking" — the network of financial institutions that facilitate a large volume of financial transactions and are largely unregulated.

Asked the same question in her own Daily News interview, Hillary Clinton responded:

There are two approaches. There's Section 121, Section 165 [of Dodd-Frank], and both of them can be used by regulators to either require a bank to sell off businesses, lines of businesses or assets, because of the finding that is made by two-thirds of the financial regulators that the institution poses a grave threat, or if the Fed and the FDIC conclude that the institutions' living will resolution is inadequate and is not going to get any better, there can also be requirements that they do so.

So we've got that structure. Now a lot of people have argued that there need to be some tweaks to it that I would be certainly open to. But my point from the very beginning of this campaign, and it's something that I've said repeatedly: big banks did not cause the Great Recession primarily. They were complicit, but hedge funds; Lehman Brothers, an investment bank; a big insurance company, AIG; mortgage companies like Countrywide, Fannie and Freddie — there were lots of culprits who were contributing to the circumstances that led to the very dangerous financial crisis.

On April 5, after Sanders' win in the Wisconsin primary, campaign manager Jeff Weaver launched a critique of Clinton that reminded some observers of an old Onion article. The article, titled "Hillary Clinton Is Too Ambiguous To Be The First Female President" complained about Clinton's qualities such as offering smart rejoinders to questions on Meet the Press (rather than knowing her place), and "staying in the race, blatantly ignoring the wishes of some people." Weaver's quip to CNN's Jake Tapper was a warning to the Clinton camp not to "destroy the Democratic Party to satisfy the secretary’s ambitions to become president of the United States." New York magazine's Rebecca Traister was among the commentators who detected a sexist trope, here. Ambition is "a quality that is required for powerful men and admired in them," she wrote, but "looks far less attractive on their female counterparts, and especially on their female competitors." The renewed attempt to frame Hillary in this way seemed unlikely to attract more women to Sanders' campaign.

The next morning on MSNBC's Morning Joe Hillary was asked about Sanders' Daily News interview. Host Joe Scarborough tried several times to get Clinton to say that Sanders was not qualified. Clinton did not take the bait, responding instead that perhaps Sanders hadn't "done his homework," and had been "talking for more than a year about doing things that he obviously hadn’t really studied or understood," — partially echoing Sanders own statement.

In a speech later that day Sanders misstated Clinton's remarks, saying that she had said he was not qualified to be president. He then continued:

Well, let me, let me just say in response to Secretary Clinton: I don’t believe that she is qualified, if she is, through her super-PAC, taking tens of millions of dollars in special interest funds. I don’t think that you are qualified if you get $15 million from Wall Street through your super-PAC.

... and launched into his familiar litany of Clinton criticisms. Daily Beast's Michael Tomasky, among others, questioned the political utility of an insurgent candidate lagging in the polls making an objectively ridiculous claim about the qualifications of his party's likely nominee.

The next stumble came two days later when Sanders announced that he had received an invitation to speak at a Vatican conference. Margaret Archer, president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, the conference sponsor, told Bloomberg News that Sanders had requested an invitation and had not contacted her office. The Chancellor of the Academy initially disputed Archer's statement, but later confirmed that Sanders had made the first contact.

Then, over the weekend, excerpts of remarks Sanders inserted in the 1995 Congressional Record began circulating on the Internet. In the statement Sanders advocated making penalties for offenses involving powder cocaine equal to those for crack cocaine. Observers noted that the comments were inconsistent with Sanders current rhetoric about providing greater opportunity for young people. As Daily Beast's Tomasky noted, Sanders cocaine proposals would have put "millions more people behind bars for years, ruining that many more lives, black, white, and otherwise." The blast from the past did not square easily with Sanders presenting himself as a champion of criminal justice reform, criticizing the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which became the Omnibus Crime Bill of 1994 and passed during the Clinton administration. The bills broadened the applicability of the death penalty and encouraged longer prison sentences. Sanders voted for both bills, and was still presenting himself as "tough on crime" in 2006.

Having dissed women, misrepresented his interaction with the Vatican, and been confronted with his past as a law-and-order advocate, Sanders went on to alienate another community whose votes he could use. Asked during the April 14 debate about Clinton's primary victories and delegate lead, Sanders responded:

Look, let me acknowledge what is absolutely true. Secretary Clinton cleaned our clock in the Deep South. No question about it. We got murdered there. That is the most conservative part of this great country. That’s the fact.

As Slate's Jamelle Bouie noted, the statement was part of a broader effort by the Sanders campaign to frame Clinton's lead in votes and delegates as coming only from conservative areas of the country where Sanders didn't compete. This, Bouie wrote, is "a bit hypocritical," as Idaho, Utah, Alaska, and Wyoming — where Sanders won — are "so Republican that they’ve backed a Democrat only once in the past 60 years". Writing on MSNBC.com, Steve Benen noted that the Sanders campaign "made a real effort" to win in Arizona, Nevada, Ohio, and Massachusetts, but lost all of them.

But Bouie saw in Sanders' dismissal of Clinton's southern victories a darker if perhaps unintentional message. "The typical Southern Democrat of 2016— and of 2008, and even of 2004—" Bouie wrote, "is black." "[T]he typical Southern Democratic voter," is a black woman in middle age; and the Democratic electorate in the Deep South is largely black.... If Bernie Sanders wants to bring about a political revolution," Bouie concluded, "he should refrain from spurning the Democrats who are most likely to make it happen."

On the eve of the New York primary the Sanders campaign launched another quixotic sortie at the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign, accusing them of campaign finance law violations. At issue are so-called "joint fundraising committees," (JFCs) which enable campaigns to raise large quantities of cash. A small portion goes to the campaign, a portion goes to the DNC, and the rest goes to the state party organizations. Clinton, Sanders and other presidential candidates have set up JFCs. The Sanders campaign complained that the JFC used some of its money to solicit small donations for the Clinton campaign. Writing on his blog, election law expert Rick Hasen opined that he couldn't see what part of election law was being violated by this practice. "[L]legally this seems weak," he wrote. And "politically, it is quite odd for Sanders, who would need the DNC’s support to win the presidency should be be the Democratic nominee, to be attacking the DNC."

Fittingly, then, some would say, in the April 19 New York primary, Sanders, who like a retiring New Yorker moved to Vermont in 1981, was soundly defeated by Hillary Clinton, despite outspending her 2-1. Comparing the Sanders campaign to Monty Python's parrot The Guardian (UK)'s Richard Wolffe declared the Sanders campaign "no more." "It has been an ex-campaign since Super Tuesday," he wrote, "when Sanders fell so far behind Clinton in the delegate count that he needed lopsided victories to get back into contention for the convention." That didn't happen Tuesday night, he added.

Slate's Bouie again:

Bernie Sanders isn’t leading a new movement, and he doesn’t represent the dawning of liberal ideology. To the extent that there is a movement at all, it is simply a movement to get Sanders elected president. Nothing more and nothing less. This is a classic insurgency, updated for 2016. But that doesn’t mean it’s insignificant. This year, the insurgency is larger than it’s ever been, and that in itself is an opportunity. A chance for the insurgents to play the long game, to co-opt the institutions that have held them back and to emerge as the leaders of a new Democratic Party. Sanders may not be the Democratic nominee, or the president of the United States, but if his supporters take the opportunity, they’ll accomplish what past insurgent candidacies couldn’t, and he’ll stand as a key figure in the origin story of a new, new left.

Meanwhile, the PredictWise data aggregator increased the probability of Clinton's winning the presidency to 74% " a new high for her.