WTF, Bernie?

For months, the Bernie Sanders campaign has been complaining about the lack of debates and their odd placement in low-viewership time slots. But this week, the New Hampshire Union Leader and MSNBC pulled a nice little jiu-jitsu move, inviting the three Dems to an unsanctioned debate next week, just before the #fitn primary.

Martin O’Malley leapt at the chance. The Hillary Clinton camp, rather surprisingly, said she would participate if Bernie Sanders also accepted.

And Bernie said “No.”

I don’t get it. The door was open to a debate in weeknight prime time, at the very peak of interest in the early primaries… and he backed away.

Bernie’s calling for a political revolution. That isn’t the act of a proud revolutionary. It’s the act of a political operative playing the angles.

There have been successive rationales from the Sanders camp. First, it claimed it couldn’t agree to the unsanctioned debate for fear of being barred from future Democratic National Committee-sponsored debates.

Which frankly didn’t pass the smell test. You’re telling me if all three candidates agreed to the New Hampshire event, the DNC would ban all of them? What, they’d have debates with empty stages? C’mon.

Tonight, there’s another story from Jeff Weaver, the Sith Lord of the Sanders campaign. He is now demanding three more debates as the price for Sanders’ participation in the New Hampshire debate. And Weaver’s logic is, well, more than a little bit twisted.

“Sen. Sanders is happy to have more debates but we are not going to schedule them on an ad hoc basis at the whim of the Clinton campaign. If Secretary Clinton wants more debates that’s great. We propose three additional debates. One in March, April and May and none on a Friday, Saturday or holiday weekend. And all of the three Democratic candidates must be invited. If the Clinton campaign will commit to this schedule, we would ask the DNC to arrange a debate in New Hampshire on Feb. 4.”

A few problems with this. First, the NH event was NOT scheduled “at the whim of the Clinton campaign.” It was initiated by two high-profile news organizations. Unless Weaver thinks the notoriously conservative Union Leader is colluding with Hillary Clinton.

Second,  why hold the New Hampshire event hostage and threaten its cancellation in hopes of adding more debates? Why not grab the opportunity while it’s in front of you?

Third, the tone of his statement comes across as petulant and whiny, especially after the much more accepting language from his counterparts.

Fourth, why “ask the DNC to arrange” the New Hampshire debate? Accept it straight from the source and put the DNC on the defensive. If the three candidates had acted together, they could have forced the DNC’s hand. In a moment when you could have taken the ball away from the DNC and run with it, you instead simply hand it back.

Fifth, please stop talking like a lawyer. The Sanders campaign is supposed to be a different animal, a break with the tired conventions of politics as usual. This is a purely political move, an attempt to come out looking like the winner even at the cost of losing.

I suppose if the DNC fails to schedule three more debates, Bernie can claim the moral high ground. But the situation will be needlessly muddied. If the New Hampshire event falls through, Bernie will be the guy who said “No.”

A New Hampshire debate would turn the spotlight on the Democratic race at a key moment. It would give Bernie a chance to make his closing argument just before Granite Staters go to the polls. New Hampshire is crucial for his campaign’s chances; if he doesn’t win there, he’ll have a hell of a time in the following contests — in Nevada, South Carolina, and a host of southern states on Super Tuesday. Clinton has a substantial advantage in most of those states. Bernie needs the momentum of a New Hampshire victory.

But he’s willing to gamble the New Hampshire opportunity in a high-stakes power play. Sounds like spite getting the best of principle.

7 thoughts on “WTF, Bernie?

  1. David Ellenbogen

    Does it come as news to you that Sanders is a shrewd politician? How do you think he got to where he is? He’s leading in NH and only stands to lose ground there if there’s a debate shortly before the primary. Where he is the underdog (outside of NH) is where he needs to appear in debates. What difference does the rationale that’s presented to the public make? And Clinton operates the same way — thus his proposed deal (which I doubt she’ll accept). The average primary voter is not going to research the nuances of why or why not he (or she) wants to debate.

  2. Chris

    Bernie has been calling for more debates from the start and Clinton has been hiding and colluding with Wasserman-Schultz to protect her lead. MSNBC exhibits a clear pro-Clinton bias and pulled this move at the very moment when Clinton needed it. It would NEVER have happened if Clinton were enjoying a comfortable lead. The candidates will all agree to more debates now, but they will not be at the whim of the Clinton campaign. Rational, intelligent people can read the writing on the wall.

  3. Jeremy S

    This article is disappointingly naive. He has to say no. The DNC is still boss, whether we like it or not. If he joined in, he would not be able to take part in any future debates. Don’t be dense.

    1. John S. Walters Post author

      You’re wrong. If O’Malley, Clinton, and Sanders all showed up, the DNC couldn’t do anything about it. If Bernie said “Yes” and the deal went sideways between now and debate night, he could withdraw and blame the DNC for screwing things up. As it stands, it’s on him.

  4. Faith King

    Unless I’m mistaken, Clinton hasn’t raised one objection to the woefully low number of debates. Didn’t bother her a bit. Probably some obvious reasons for that (preserve her presumed lead as the anointed one) ..but que sera. I believe in one of your earlier posts, John, that you minimized Sander’s complaints as so-much childish whining – even suggesting he just should just buck up and accept the loaded-playing field as the ‘way things are’. In other words, get with the program, accept the B/S and play politics. Now, you’re excoriating him for ‘acting like a political operative’ while devoting not a moment to wondering why Clinton suddenly thinks another debate (unsanctioned at that) is crucial…for the fate of democracy, the free world, and oh yeah, her campaign in NH where she’s floundering. (Well, you did say it was “surprising”) And since the mainstream media and all the establishment Democratic candidates kow-tow to Clinton, the assumption seems to be that Sanders should too. Be a gentleman and give her one last bite at the apple..after she’s failed to galvanize voters there. I mean, I get it, this is an opinion blog, you like Clinton, but boy, I think you are reaching here.

  5. newzjunqie

    Was supportive & intrigued by Bernie run in the beginning. Not & never was for Clinton after researching & sifting through lots of info for a very long time. She and co-conspirator Bill (the real candidate) should be nowhere near WH, women or levers of power-ever.

    Prefer Sanders but has lost his luster. Unimpressed by inability to update & bring Marxist-shtick into this century. And, do not believe he can community-organize his way to getting done what he wants to do, esp if voter outrage sweeps more right-leaning into congress with another wave at midterm-what then?

    Surely sudden Clinton interest in debate merely serves self interest. However were he ready-could have seized opportunity to advantage but diller-dollar ten o’clock scholar does not have wherewithal to go off-script as dog ate homework. Bad move following Paris attack debate-drama. Employing typical Sanders style horses-ass stubborness & failure to seamlessly segue to current events an eyeopener exposing inability to be flexible. Leaving self vulnerable to increased scrutiny of wafer-thin resume, devoid of any knowledge that does not fall in line with decades of highly rehearsed, heavily scripted talking points & worldview. Rather than studying-up, seemingly prefers strong-arming & avoiding what he cannot handle, bullying way through any obstacles such as the press who in fact represent public right to know-or should. Cannot seem to deal with any disruption of strategic & careful planning.

    Hey guess what Bernie-shifting gears a way of life for all not on autopilot-inability sign of aging & reason enough not to support candidacy.


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