As Senator Bernie Sanders cruised to a big win on Tuesday, his campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, made two bold statements that Hillary Clinton supporters found questionable and offensive. The clash highlights the difficulties the Democratic Party is going to have reconciling Clinton and Sanders supporters in the fall—difficulties that will be serious, on both sides, but I don’t believe insurmountable.
I’m going to let someone else talk about what the Sanders forces will find tough about falling in line behind Clinton. I know there are a lot of issues. As a Clinton supporter and a lifelong Democrat who nonetheless wants Sanders to succeed in pulling the party to the left, let me explain what was wrong with Weaver’s comments. And let me try to tease out the difference between his first two provocative pronouncements.
The morning of the Wisconsin primary, Weaver told CNN’s Chris Cuomo he anticipated an “open convention” for the Democrats, akin to what the Republican contest is shaping up to be, where Sanders will wind up being the Democratic nominee. Even though Clinton currently leads in pledged delegates, by a lot—more than Barack Obama ever did—and even though most non-aligned analysts think that lead is insurmountable. Weaver claimed, “It is very, very, very unlikely that either candidate, either Secretary Clinton or Senator Sanders, will go into the convention with a majority needed of pledged delegates in order to win. And so in essence the Democratic convention will be an open convention.”
Much more disturbingly, Weaver closed his big day by telling CNN’s Jake Tapper, who asked about the increasingly bitter tone of both the Clinton and Sanders campaigns, that “This is what I would say to [Clinton’s campaign].… Don’t destroy the Democratic Party to satisfy the secretary’s ambitions to become president of the United States. Right, you want to have a party at the end of this we can unify.”
Then, as I was finishing this piece, another skirmish broke out over Sanders’s saying Clinton was “not qualified” to be president—which probably sounded more insulting than it might have, had Weaver not made those other remarks this week.
Clinton supporters, including me, found these statements wildly provocative. But they’re actually different, in tone and in substance. The comment about Clinton’s “destructive” ambition was arrogant, condescending, and, yes, sexist. In response to Weaver, MTV’s Jamil Smith revived this on-point 10-year-old chestnut from The Onion: “Hillary Clinton is too ambitious to be the first female president.” Clinton and Sanders are running a spirited campaign for the presidency, which has been mostly high-minded and collegial, with occasional sharp elbows thrown by both parties. How did her ambition come to be the one that’s called “destructive”? (One guess.) Arguably, since Sanders is trailing in pledged delegates, in the popular vote, and even in the number of states won to date, and since he is the candidate that analysts give virtually zero chance of edging Clinton, one could argue that is his “ambition” that threatens to “destroy” the party.