Today, Democrats around the country are rooting for their favorite candidate in Iowa. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic nominee, is promoting her upcoming Hulu docuseries entitled “Hillary”.
In the trailer for the docuseries about her life, she stoked intraparty conflict through her comments about Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) stating, “He was in Congress for years. He had one senator support him. Nobody likes him; nobody wants to work with him. He got nothing done.”
When The Hollywood Reporter asked her about her remarks on Sanders she replied, “…It’s his online Bernie Bros and their relentless attacks on lots of his competitors, particularly the women…” She further elaborated by implying Sanders and his campaign have a pattern of attacking female candidates. The comments had no negative effect on Sanders’ polling numbers. However, Clinton’s comments highlight a trend of antagonism towards Sanders’ supporters and the dismissal of the Senator’s record by “establishment” Democrats.
It wouldn’t be a reach to say that Sanders is the most influential presidential candidate in recent memory. His 2016 platform, that remained consistent with his view of politics since the 1980s, was adapted by many “Blue Wave” Democrats, especially predominant U.S. Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI). His “Medicare for All” plan, which was once painted as radical, is now supported by more than half of all House Democrats. To imply Sanders is alone in his quest is just not true. Contrarily, he has created the largest grassroots movement in recent history. One indicator of this is that his campaign received about five million small dollar donations averaging at $18.
In response to the comments by Clinton, his supporters on Twitter trended #ILikeBernie in the US. Sanders’ supporters are the “New Deplorables” disliked by Clinton, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Corporate TV and much of traditional print media. For instance, the New York Times and the Washington Post have both published pieces insulting his supporters. I would argue that the “Bernie Bro” reputation, if not false, is at best completely exaggerated. It is driven by popular media as a way to delegitimize the waves Sanders has made in the Democratic Party. Astonishingly, it ignores the fact that young women under 45 make up a large portion of Sanders’ base according to The Economist. The future of the Democratic Party is looking more and more like a reflection of Sanders. However, the antagonism of Sanders and his supporters is problematic for three reasons.
Firstly, if Sanders is not the nominee, isolating his supporters will demotivate them from coming to the polls. The Democratic strategy cannot be merely to get Independents and centrist Republicans to vote against President Trump in the general. The easiest way to ensure success is, instead, focusing on turning out more Democrats. According to a Forbes Op-ed by Ben-Shahar, “Even after the Democratic convention, about a third of Sanders followers were still not supporting Clinton. A month before the election 55% of them were continuing to view Clinton negatively…” Though many “Bernie Bros” are crude in their remarks to female candidates, such behavior has not been supported by Senator Sanders or his campaign. Sanders wrote in a 2019 letter to his supporters, “I want to be clear that I condemn bullying and harassment of any kind and in any space.” Moreover sensible criticisms of centrist Democrats will only increase as the party becomes more progressive. It would be preferred if on Twitter no one insulted anyone, but the reality is that this is the nature of running for President.
Secondly, if Bernie is the nominee, it makes any endorsement of him by Clinton, Warren or anyone else who has spoken negatively about his character be perceived as disingenuous. Again, such a scenario would only split the party and prevent turnout. Moreover, it would open up Sanders to attacks from President Trump as “a radical not backed by his own party” or a “rogue ideologue.”
Lastly, attacking Sanders’ supporters is just mean. Clinton infamously referred to Trump’s supporters as “a basket of deplorables” and this became a rallying cry against her. However, such mean spirited remarks are not what we should vote for in a President. It is too Trump-like to do so. At the end of the day these supporters are who the next President will have to lead. A good first step would be not generalizing them.
Will the attacks by Clinton alter Sanders’ chances at winning in Iowa and New Hampshire? Most likely not. Will these attacks make the Democratic Party vulnerable to criticism by Republicans? Absolutely. Does the continuous criticism of Sanders’ supporters make them less likely to show support for a different Democrat? It did in 2016.
Fizza Alam is a contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.