In early February, between the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary, Hillary Clinton’s campaign asked the Bernie Sanders campaign to schedule a debate in New Hampshire. Sanders agreed on the condition that Clinton agree to additional debates in March, April, and May.
The debate was held in New Hampshire, and a debate was held in Flint, Michigan on March 9, With the April 19 New York primary approaching, one would expect that a debate in New York would be on the agenda. But Clinton’s campaign has delayed scheduling that debate, arguing that Sanders must ease his “negative tone” first.
What has Sanders done or said that’s negative?
- He refers to Clinton as part of the political establishment.
- He has repeatedly reminded voters of the large sums she has received from Wall Street firms as donations or payments for speeches.
- According to the Washington Post, his campaign has commissioned polls to learn which of the differences between Sanders and Clinton—their positions on Wall Street and fracking, for example— to emphasize in the New York primary campaign.
Clinton’s supporters argue that she isn’t establishment because she would be the first woman candidate on a major party ticket. But how can it be that the candidate with the support of the vast majority of superdelegates, who are, by definition, elected officials and party establishment figures, is not an establishment candidate? And how is such a statement a “negative tone” in the campaign?
Campaigning on the issues?
Contrasting their positions on the issues using truthful statements of fact is what the two candidates are supposed to be doing. Choosing to emphasize the differences that will resonate best with the voters is simply logical. The tone becomes negative when one candidate or supporter distorts the other’s actions or ascribes ulterior motives or bad character. Sanders’s actions are not comparable to classic examples of negative campaigning, such as LBJ’s “Daisy Ad” from the 1964 election, or the Willie Horton ads in 1988. It’s not like Donald Trump’s first ads, as; reported in the New York Times
The question the voter should consider in evaluating campaign tactics are:
- Is the allegation true?
- If true, is it relevant to the issues in the campaign?
Complete reform of the campaign finance system to eliminate the influence of big business is a major plank of Sanders’s platform. Corporate donations and payments for speeches would be relevant, particularly if Clinton’s opponents can connect the donations with her actions or inactions on policy issues.
The worst is yet to come
The tone of the Republican campaign leads me to believe that whoever their candidate is, the attacks on the Democratic candidate will be far worse than anything Sanders comes up with. Add to that the venom with which the Republicans have spoken of Clinton since the 1992 election, and we have every reason to expect that the fall campaign will be vicious and vitriolic. If Clinton is unwilling to debate Sanders in New York, how will she face a Republican opponent?