Back in February, shortly after the Iowa Democratic caucus finished in a virtual draw, Bernie Sanders attempted to rally the left by laying claim to being the only true progressive in the race. “You can’t be a progressive and a moderate at the same time,” the self-styled democratic socialist said at a New Hampshire forum in what was a clear shot at Hillary Clinton. “I do not know any progressive who has a super PAC and takes $15 million from Wall Street.”
Two months later, after building a clear delegate lead over her rival, Clinton is returning the favor with a bit of a twist aimed at her own base. During a lengthy interview with Politico’s Glenn Thrush—recorded last Friday and released on Wednesday—the Democratic front-runner was asked whether she thought Sanders was a real Democrat given he hasn’t committed to using his fundraising might to help down-ballot Democrats in their general election contests. (“When he puts his head on a pillow at night, do you think he goes to sleep a Democrat?”) Hillary’s response:
Well, I can’t answer that, Glenn, because he’s a relatively new Democrat, and, in fact, I’m not even sure he is one. He’s running as one. So I don’t know quite how to characterize him. I’ll leave that to him. But I know there’s a big difference between Democrats and Republicans, and I know that Senator Sanders spends a lot of time attacking my husband, attacking President Obama, you know, calling President Obama weak and disappointing, and actually making a move in 2012 to recruit somebody to run a primary against him. I rarely hear him say anything negative about George W. Bush, who I think wrecked our economy, just not to put too fine a point on it. … So I don’t know where he is on the spectrum, but I can tell you where I am.
This isn’t a completely new criticism of Sanders, who was officially an independent before joining the Democratic race last year. Clinton and her allies rarely miss an opportunity to paint Sanders as someone who is overly critical of the Democrat currently in the White House. Still, her specific jabs at Bernie’s party bona fides or lack thereof (I’m not even sure he is one) and his down-ballot fundraising comments are the latest evidence that Clinton is growing tired of a primary fight that has been far more competitive, and lasted far longer, than she and her team expected. She conceded nearly as much to Thrush when he asked her about the tone Team Sanders has taken lately. “I think they’re getting more negative,” she said, adding: “I think that there is a persistent, organized effort to misrepresent my record, and I don’t appreciate that, and I feel sorry for a lot of the young people who are fed this list of misrepresentations.”
Sanders, who has clearly embraced the outsider label, isn’t likely to take as big of an issue with Clinton’s you’re-not-a-Democrat charge as she did with his you’re-not-a-progressive one. (In many ways, it plays directly into his current contested convention-themed strategy.) But the fact that Clinton is making it so forcefully now suggests that she thinks that Democratic voters are as eager to get to the general election as she is.