Bernie Sanders’s PUMA Moment: Hillary Clinton ‘Not Qualified’
The Democratic Socialist opens up a line of attack that Democrats may well come to regret.
That didn’t take long.
I wondered Tuesday night how nasty both Democrats would get—whether Bernie Sanders would start aping conservative talking points against Hillary Clinton, and whether she would try to out-Israel him in New York. We’re not quite to those places yet, but Sanders’s blunt statement Wednesday night that Clinton “is not qualified” to be president ratchets up the arms race considerably.
This started Wednesday morning when Clinton appeared on Morning Joe and Joe Scarborough—jumping off from Sanders’s wobbly Daily News editorial board interview—tried to ask her four times whether she thought Sanders was qualified to be president. Here’s the full exchange so you can decide for yourself:
JS: In light of the questions he had problems with, do you believe this morning that Bernie Sanders is qualified and ready to be president of the United States?
HC: Well, I think the interview raised a lot of really serious questions, and I look at it this way. The core of his campaign has been break up the banks, and it didn't seem in reading his answers that he understood exactly how that would work under Dodd-Frank and exactly who would be responsible, what the criteria were; and that means you really can't help people if you don’t know how to do what you are campaigning on saying you want to do. And then there were other—
JS: So is he qualified?...And I’m serious, if you weren't running today and you looked at Bernie Sanders would you say this guy is ready to be president of the United States?
HC: Well, I think he hadn’t done his homework and he’d been talking for more than a year about doing things that he obviously hadn’t really studied or understood, and that does raise a lot of questions and really what it goes to is for voters to ask themselves, can he deliver what he’s talking about, can he really help people—
JS: What do you think?
HC: Can he help our economy, can he keep our country strong...Well, obviously, I think I’m by far the better choice—
JS: But do you think he is qualified and do you think he is able to deliver on the things he is promising to all these Democratic voters?
HC: Well, lemme put it this way, Joe. I think that what he has been saying about the core issue in his whole campaign doesn’t seem to be rooted in an understanding of either the law or the practical ways you get something done. And I will leave it to voters to decide who of us can do the job that the country needs, who can do all aspects of the job. Both on the economic domestic issues and on national security and foreign policy.
I don’t know how you read that, but I read it as Scarborough trying four times to get Clinton to say outright that Bernie Sanders is not qualified to be president, and her refusing to do so. She came sorta close; The Washington Post headlined a write up on it “Clinton questions whether Sanders is qualified to be president,” but she never said the words, and after attempt number four, she retreated to the standard, and appropriate, dodge about it being up to the voters. From there, the interview moved on to other topics.
And what did Sanders do? This, in a speech in Philadelphia Wednesday night.
She has been saying lately that she thinks that I am not qualified to be president.
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.
I don’t think you are qualified if you have voted for the disastrous war in Iraq. I don’t think you are qualified if you have supported virtually every disastrous trade agreement which has cost us millions of decent paying jobs. I don’t think you are qualified if you’ve supported the Panama free trade agreement, something I very strongly opposed and, which as all of you know, has allowed corporations and wealthy all over the world people to avoid paying their taxes to their countries.
Wait. What? “Has been saying”? “Has been saying,” as if she’d said it seven times? She didn’t even say it once!
Now—Sanders apologists will scream that she started it, and even neutral observers, if there are any, may be confused. But there’s a big difference between saying “raises serious questions” and “I’ll leave it to the voters to decide,” and saying flat out that one’s primary opponent is “not qualified.”
Clinton is still the favorite to win the nomination. I heard Chuck Todd say Wednesday morning that Sanders needs to win 67 percent of the remaining pledged delegates to overtake her lead. Since all delegates are awarded proportionally, and since there aren’t likely to be many huge blowouts in the upcoming states (we’re almost done with caucuses), that seems a tall order.
Clinton also leads the popular vote tally by almost exactly 2.4 million. Pretty hard to picture him overcoming that, too. How hard? Let’s assume, just for the sake of argument, big Sanders wins in New York and California. In 2008, Clinton won both of those handily over Barack Obama—New York by 17 percent and around 250,000 votes, and California by 8 percent and around 430,000.
It’s pretty unlikely that Sanders can equal those results, but let’s just say he does, and then let’s give him another 100,000 in Pennsylvania. That would be 780,000. That still puts him 1.6 million votes behind. Say he even runs the table and nets another 300,000 or so from the smaller states. He’s still more than a million votes behind in the most optimistic scenario.
Votes are important because they tend to determine what the superdelegates do. Superdelegates are hesitant to undo the voters’ collective will. It’s worth noting here that in 2008, Clinton lost the popular vote tally to Obama by only 300,000 or 400,000, depending on how you counted them. There were controversies then over whether to count Florida and Michigan, which had disobeyed the party’s mandated calendar. If you don’t include them, Obama won by around 450,000. If you do, he beat Clinton by just 60,000 (out of 35 million cast).
So it was much closer than it seems this is going to be, but even so, the superdelegates wouldn’t overturn the voters’ choice.
Why all these numbers? Just to show that it’s still likely that at the end of the process, Clinton will be ahead, and Sanders will have to endorse her. Not certain, of course, but likely. So the question is, how can he endorse her after saying flat out that she’s not qualified to be president?
Well, politicians have their ways. “She’s better than Trump/Cruz.” But won’t it ring awfully hollow? For her part, Clinton, looking toward a future mending of fences, brushed off Sanders’s remarks. It’s worth noting, too, that back in 2008, Clinton gave up the fight in early June right after the primaries ended and endorsed Obama. One has trouble picturing Sanders doing the same, if it comes to that, and what he said Wednesday night makes it even less likely.