I have conjectured about Bernie Sanders' bitterness and refusal to accept that Hillary Clinton has defeated him - something abhorrent to his seemingly huge ego - and now a piece in Politico with information sourced from within his campaign confirms some of my thoughts. Moreover, it appears that Sanders has been extremely "hands on" in running his campaign which is not a bad thing in and of itself. However, it makes it very difficult for the candidate to blame missteps and nastiness on others. The piece also suggests that there is strong split in the campaign between some staffers and Sanders as to a rational basis for continuing the campaign now that no path to victory remains. Here are highlights:
There’s no strategist pulling the strings, and no collection of burn-it-all-down aides egging him on. At the heart of the rage against Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party, the campaign aides closest to him say, is Bernie Sanders.
It was the Vermont senator who personally rewrote his campaign manager’s shorter statement after the chaos at the Nevada state party convention and blamed the political establishment for inciting the violence.
He was the one who made the choice to go after Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz after his wife read him a transcript of her blasting him on television.
He chose the knife fight over calling Clinton unqualified, which aides blame for pulling the bottom out of any hopes they had of winning in New York and their last real chance of turning a losing primary run around.
There are many divisions within the Sanders campaign—between the dead-enders and the work-it-out crowds, between the younger aides who think he got off message while the consultants got rich and obsessed with Beltway-style super delegate math, and between the more experienced staffers who think the kids got way too high on their sense of the difference between a movement and an actual campaign.
But more than any of them, Sanders is himself filled with resentment, on edge, feeling like he gets no respect -- all while holding on in his head to the enticing but remote chance that Clinton may be indicted before the convention.
Convinced as Sanders is that he’s realizing his lifelong dream of being the catalyst for remaking American politics—aides say he takes credit for a Harvard Kennedy School study in April showing young people getting more liberal, and he takes personal offense every time Clinton just dismisses the possibility of picking him as her running mate—his guiding principle under attack has basically boiled down to a feeling that multiple aides sum up as: “Screw me? No, screw you.”
This isn’t about what’s good for the Democratic Party in his mind, but about what he thinks is good for advancing the agenda that he’s been pushing since before he got elected mayor of Burlington.
Sanders owns nearly every major decision, right down to the bills. A conversation with former Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin about getting left in personal debt from his own 1992 presidential campaign has stayed at the top of Sanders’ mind.
Aides say Sanders thinks that progressives who picked Clinton are cynical, power-chasing chickens — like Sen. Sherrod Brown, one of his most consistent allies in the Senate before endorsing Clinton and campaigning hard for her ahead of the Ohio primary. Sanders is so bitter about it that he’d be ready to nix Brown as an acceptable VP choice, if Clinton ever asked his advice on who’d be a good progressive champion.
Every time Sanders got into a knife fight, aides say, they ended up losing. But they could never stop Sanders when he got his back up.
Top Sanders aides admit that it’s been weeks, if not months, since they themselves realized he wasn’t going to win, and they’ve been operating with a Trump’s-got-no-real-shot safety net. They debate whether Sanders’ role in the fall should be a full vote-for-Clinton campaign, or whether he should just campaign hard against Trump without signing up to do much for her directly.
They haven’t been able to get Sanders focused on any of that, or on the real questions about what kind of long term organization to build out of his email list. They know they’ll have their own rally in Philadelphia – outside the the convention hall—but that’s about as far as they’ve gotten.
Losing a campaign is hard, as I know from my own run for office years ago. But part of Sanders' bitterness may be from the fact that in the last analysis, he has no one to blame but himself. Whatever he decides to do, being bitter, angry and nasty will not attract sympathy or support over the long haul.