Sanders’ Attacks Are Taking a Serious Toll on Clinton
Policy + Politics

Sanders’ Attacks Are Taking a Serious Toll on Clinton

By most indications, Hillary Clinton will break Sen. Bernie Sanders’s recent winning streak on Tuesday with a big victory in the New York Democratic primary, putting her another step closer to wrapping up the Democratic presidential nomination.

Although Sanders is clearly better at stirring his liberal base and turning out huge crowds -- as he did again on Sunday, drawing an estimated 28,000 supporters to Prospect Park in his native Brooklyn -- the latest CBS News Battleground Tracker shows Clinton leading Sanders by 10 percentage points in New York, 53 percent to 43 percent, with 291 delegates at stake.

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Clinton currently leads Sander, 1,748 delegates to 1,084. A total of 2,384 delegates are needed to win the Democratic presidential nomination this summer.

Regardless of Sanders’ unflinching argument that he still has a “narrow pathway” to the nomination this summer, Clinton can derail his long-shot bid with a solid performance Tuesday, followed by strong showings or victories next week in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maryland and other Northeastern states seen as friendly terrain for her.

However, a new survey by the Wall Street Journal/NBC News released over the weekend contains alarming news for Clinton: Sanders’ stepped up attacks on her -- for accepting millions in speaking fees and contributions from Wall Street and her support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq and a raft of international trade agreements that hurt average workers -- have cut deeply into her overall approval rating.

Some Democrats now worry that if Sanders keeps up his attacks, even after it becomes obvious he has no way of securing the nomination, he could end up undermining Clinton’s prospects for beating GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump or Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in the general election.

Among Democratic and Republican voters overall, 56 percent have a negative view of Clinton while just 32 percent have positive things to say about her, according to the survey. Clinton has struggled from the beginning of her campaign to overcome negative views about her honesty and integrity, especially in the wake of the controversy over her handling of sensitive emails during her four years at the State Department. But the latest poll shows a startling one-month drop of 24 points in her approval rating among all registered voters.

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For sure, she does much better among Democrats than Republicans. Among Democrats, she scores a 63 percent positive rating, while just 20 percent are highly critical of her. Sanders, the self-styled democratic socialist who has surprised many with his highly effective campaign, is viewed positively by 73 percent of Democrats, while only 11 percent harbor negative views.

There was a time when many political analysts argued that even while Sanders was unlikely to win the party nomination, his attacks on Clinton’s policies and decision making forced her to sharpen her rhetoric, tack strategically to the left to broaden her appeal and generally get into fighting shape for the much tougher general election campaign.

Yet Sanders in recent weeks has stepped up his criticism of Clinton so much – essentially dismissing her as a tool of Wall Street and the establishment and as a second rate thinker and leader who time and again showed faulty judgment – that now there is a risk he will leave her seriously wounded entering the general election.

Sanders and Clinton engaged in some of the nastiest exchanges of the campaign Thursday night during the final Democratic debate before Tuesday’s New York primary. And on Sunday, he continued his line of attack that Clinton is the darling of “Wall Street and other special interests” as the country faces the threat of “oligarchy.”

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“This is the issue of American politics today: Do we have a government that represents all of us or just the 1 percent?" Sanders said during an appearance on CNN's State of the Union program. “You’re not going to have a government that represents all of us, so long as you have candidates like Secretary Clinton being dependent on big money interests.”

Trump, who is even more unpopular than Clinton among registered voters in general (65 percent view him unfavorably), has picked up on Sanders’ drumbeat against the former secretary of state and U.S. senator from New York. “Bernie Sanders says that Hillary Clinton is unqualified to be president,” Trump wrote on Twitter last week. “Based on her decision making ability, I can go along with that!”

Larry J. Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist, said on Monday that a one month, 24-point drop in Clinton’s approval rating is a little hard to believe, even with both Sanders and the Republicans beating up on her. Yet Clinton better prepare for the worst.

“The campaign has gotten more negative and the attacks on her by Sanders are now sharper,” he said in an email. “That may explain some of the change. Normally a candidate's unfavorability declines once the nomination is decided and the party begins to reunify. Probably that awaits Clinton in June and July.”