During Saturday night’s Democratic debate (you might have missed it), Bernie Sanders did something astounding: He apologized to Hillary Clinton.
It was both classy and stupid. Sanders had all the momentum going into this debate, and now he was apologizing? It was a discordant departure from his campaign’s messaging.
In case you missed it, a quick recap on the backstory: After a Sanders staffer got caught peeking at Hillary Clinton’s secret voter file, Sanders’ campaign pulled off a masterful bit of jujitsu. Rather than coming off as the guilty party, Sanders’ campaign manager Jeff Weaver went on offense, saying the punishment was too severe, and accusing the Democratic National Committee of “trying to help the Clinton campaign” with “our data [that] has been stolen by the DNC.”
“Rather incredibly, the leadership of the DNC has used this incident to shutdown our access to our own information,” Weaver said at a press conference (referring to the DNC’s punishment of Sanders’ campaign). “This is the lifeblood of our campaign.”
“By their action, the leadership of the DNC is now actively attempting to undermine our campaign. This is unacceptable,” he continued.
Those were tough words — so tough that the controversy was fueling almost all the buzz heading into the debate.
It was, after all, easy to imagine Clinton’s campaign colluding with DNC Chairperson [crscore]Debbie Wasserman Schultz[/crscore]. What is more, this perfectly fed into Sanders’ image as the populist little guy taking on Big Politics just the way he wanted to take on Big Business.
But just as Sanders did when he declared that he was sick of hearing about Hillary’s “damn emails,” he found a way to grasp defeat from the jaws of victory.
Not only did Bernie surrender the issue as a cudgel, he actually ended up apologizing to Clinton.
(Look, I get why Bernie is reluctant to go after the Clintons or the DNC, but it’s not like his campaign manager hadn’t already gone there. In fact, one wonders what might have happened had Sanders been half as forceful as his manager. What if Bernie had turned every question into a sort of “the game is rigged”/ “little guy versus the big, bad political party,” referendum on the establishment? It would have at least been interesting.)
So why would he do this? One friend tells me that Sanders is honorable to a fault, and maybe that’s true. Because he doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo that at least half of modern politics is about feigning outrage and making mountains out of molehills.
This is how you play the game. Have you ever seen an example in football where a quarterback will basically earn an Oscar nomination for feigning being hit in order to sell a “roughing he passer” or “unintentional roughness” penalty? Yeah, this was the opposite of that.
It also forces us to grapple with a new theory about modern political candidates who lose. This blog has talked a lot about being “too dumb to fail” and “too smart to win,” but Sanders might just be the first guy in a long while who was simply “Too decent to win.”