Hillary Clinton has finally taken the gloves off and spoke her mind about her Democratic presidential rival, Bernie Sanders. She flatly charged that Sanders hurt her White House bid. She got very specific and claimed that the “lasting damage” he did to her campaign did much to put Trump in the Oval Office. She took the big broad side at Sanders in her new book, What Went Wrong. Now that she has made that charge against Sanders, the question is, “Is she right?
The brutal truth is there is more truth than vindictive hyperbole in her blame game assault on Sanders. It’s true that Sanders personally voted for Clinton, campaigned for Clinton, and urged his supporters to back Clinton. But, three recent surveys showed that in the three states that put Trump in the Oval Office, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, a number of voters who voted for Sanders in the Democratic primary in those states crossed over and voted for Trump in the general election.
They were registered Democrats. They did not simply stay home, cast a vote for a third-party candidate, Jill Stein, or write Sanders’ name in. They actually voted for Trump, the candidate who seemingly represented almost everything that Sanders’ abhorred. To take that step, a lot of these voters had to really, really, loathe Clinton to the point where they would do anything to keep her out of the White House. This included supping with the political Devil, in this case Trump.
So, how much should Sanders, even though he firmly backed Clinton, be blamed for his most rabid backers breaking ranks and crossing the political Rubicon to vote for Trump? Clinton says he poisoned the political well with his drumbeat attacks on her as a war mongering, handmaiden for corporate interests, hard line beltway Democrat. This did give Trump some ammunition to con voters into thinking that he’d somehow be different from her and any other establishment politician, and really do something for the beleaguered, forgotten, hard-pressed workers who watched as their jobs and livelihood and future fled to distant shores.
No matter how much Sanders talked about the threat of Trump, and urged Democratic Party unity, thousands of Bernie backers didn’t hear any of that. The loud echo in their ears was that Clinton was just no good, and putting her in the White House would just be Trump by another name. This slammed the door hard on the lock down, requisite party unity needed to beat back the Trump onslaught.
There’s the counter intuitive argument that says why pick on Sanders’ backers for the Clinton defeat, didn’t a lot of African-American voters stay home on Election day? And more disgracefully, almost 10 percent of Blacks voted for Trump. Isn’t this the voter demographic that Democrats absolutely must have come out in huge numbers to offset the GOP’s bread and butter conservative, blue collar, rural, white male voters? A big Black vote turnout certainly made the difference for Obama in 2008 and 2012.
Yes, many Blacks did stay home, and many made their dissatisfaction, even bitterness, with and toward both Hillary and Bill plain on such things as Bill’s shove through of the draconian crime bill, this packed the jails and prisons with Black men, the gut of welfare, and the scrap of financial industry checks. But the Trump Black voters were in the heavily minority cities and counties that went for Clinton overwhelmingly anyway so their vote was no factor in Trump’s win. The same could be said for the Black vote drop-off in 2016. The numbers were still high enough, though, not to be the causative factor in Clinton’s loss.
The finger still points back to the legion of Sanders’ backers in the swing states whose bellyache over Clinton was severe enough to cause them to punch the fateful vote card for Trump. Clinton says she wanted to say that at the time and warn of this danger, but she was told by Obama and others in the party to keep her mouth shut about that. And instead of hitting back harder against Sanders in their debates and on the campaign trail as she wanted, she had to stay mute.
Obama and other key Democrats said that this would further piss off Sanders supporters against her. As it turned out, she could have raged at Sanders during the campaign for sowing enough division to insure her defeat but it wouldn’t have likely changed anything. Many of those that turn-coated from Sanders to Trump would still have cast their vote for him.
Is that Bernie’s fault as Clinton complains? No, if one believes that Sanders had no sway over his backers. Yes, if one accepts the reality that his attacks on Clinton were so fervent that they hit home hard with his most die-hard supporters. The problem for Clinton was that there were
just enough of them to tip the presidential scales to Trump, and that’s the brutal truth about Sanders.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is an associate editor of New America Media. His forthcoming book, The Trump Challenge to Black America (Middle Passage Press) will be released in August. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.