Donald Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee have latched onto a newly hacked audio recording of Hillary Clinton critiquing Bernie Sanders’s campaign as a way to disrupt Clinton’s outreach to reluctant young voters. But aides to Sanders’s campaign have pushed back, criticizing how the audio has been covered and defending what Clinton said.
The recording, first reported and uploaded by the Washington Free Beacon, was taken at a Feb. 16 fundraiser for Clinton at the McLean, Va., home of two diplomats. One week earlier, Sanders had crushed Clinton in the biggest landslide in the history of the New Hampshire primary; four days later, Clinton would head off Sanders with a victory in Nevada’s caucuses. Halfway into the recorded part of the fundraiser, an unidentified woman asked Clinton why young voters were stampeding toward Sanders.
“Young people seem to be listening to promises on both sides, and I’m worried that you can’t get from here to there without going incrementally,” she said.
“I worked for [George] McGovern,” said Clinton. “I worked for McGovern in Texas. Best I remember, he got, like 31 percent of the vote.”
After some light laughter died down, Clinton attempted to explain that Sanders was offering millennials an attractive but unrealistic set of policies. ‘There’s just a deep desire to believe that we can have free college, free health care, that what we’ve done hasn’t gone far enough, and that we just need to, you know, go as far as, you know, Scandinavia, whatever that means,” she said. “Half the people don’t know what that means, but it’s something that they deeply feel.”
Clinton went on to say that many millennials backing Sanders were “children of the Great Recession” and “living in their parents’ basement,” who “feel they got their education and the jobs that are available to them are not at all what they envisioned for themselves” but did not see the gains they expected.
“I met with a group of young black millennials today,” said Clinton, “and you know one of the young women said, ‘You know, none of us feel that we have the job that we should have gotten out of college. And we don’t believe the job market is going to give us much of a chance.’ So that is a mindset that is really affecting their politics. And so if you’re feeling like you’re consigned to, you know, being a barista, or you know, some other job that doesn’t pay a lot, and doesn’t have some other ladder of opportunity attached to it, then the idea that maybe, just maybe, you could be part of a political revolution is pretty appealing. So I think we should all be really understanding of that and should try to do the best we cannot to be, you know, a wet blanket on idealism.”
The journey of that hacked audio demonstrated, yet again, a gap between the basic campaign operations of Clinton and Trump. On Tuesday, as Trump was reeling from the first presidential debate, Washington Free Beacon reporter Lachlan Markay posted the entire recording of Clinton, “revealed by hackers who breached the email account of a campaign staffer.” His story, aimed at the site’s conservative readers, focused on Clinton’s criticism of the Long Range Stand-Off (LRSO) missile program, with no mention of the Sanders comments.
Three days later, the Intercept’s Lee Fang and Alex Emmons posted a story from the same source, focusing on Clinton’s analysis of the political scene, and how she described herself “occupying from the center-left to the center-right.” The reporters transcribed Clinton’s musings about Sanders voters, too; four hours after their story went up, Politico’s Cristiano Lima described that section of the tape as Clinton “mocking Bernie Sanders supporters.”
Only then did Republicans spring into action. Within an hour of Politico’s story going live, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway promoted it as yet another example of Clinton “mocking” voters while only donors were in the room.
— Kellyanne Conway (@KellyannePolls) October 1, 2016
RNC spokesman Sean Spicer, who had been promoting a memo about a Clinton family friend suddenly enriching himself, because tweeting at networks to hype the tape and ask why Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential candidate reaching out to Sanders voters, was not getting more airtime.
— Sean Spicer (@seanspicer) October 1, 2016
But aides to Sanders dismissed the controversy, and criticized Politico’s “mocking” phrase — which the site quietly changed. Mike Casca, Sanders’s deputy communications director in the Senate, spent some of Friday night arguing that Clinton was being empathetic, not dismissive.
— mike casca (@cascamike) October 1, 2016
“mocking” has now become “her take” and “describing.” pic.twitter.com/pFRHrI5lNi
— mike casca (@cascamike) October 1, 2016
Sanders’s Senate office did not respond to a request for comment, but other supporters of the Sanders campaign pointed out that Clinton’s smoke-filled-room analysis of Sanders was not materially different than what she said on the trail. In 2008, on the road to a too-late comeback in late primaries Clinton mocked her primary opponent Barack Obama for being overly optimistic about unifying the country.
“The sky will open, the light will come down, celestial choirs will be singing, and everyone will know we should do the do the right thing!” she snarked at a speech in Rhode Island.
In 2016, as Sanders won routs with young voters, Clinton repeatedly warned that he was over-promising what a president could do, while she was being pragmatic.
“It’s easy to diagnose the problem; it’s harder to do something about the problem,” Clinton said in April, at her final primary debate with Sanders, as he argued that America could guarantee a right to health care just as European nations did. “I do think when you make proposals and you’re running for president, you should be held accountable for whether or not the numbers add up and whether or not the plans are actually going to work.”
In June and July, after securing the nomination, Clinton made several concessions to Sanders on issues where she had once characterized him as extreme. And since Labor Day, Sanders has stumped for Clinton with increasingly high praise for her post-primary agenda.
“I recommend that she reiterate that during the campaign she learned that most working people in this country do not believe that unfettered free trade is good for them,” Sanders told The Washington Post this week. “To her credit, she changed her position. She’s opposed to the [Trans-Pacific Partnership] coming to the floor of Congress.”
Clinton’s campaign has approached the hack the way that it approached the media tumult over her remarks that “half” of Trump’s supporters fit into a “basket of deplorables.” It has leaned in, with Clinton spokesman Glen Caplin telling The Washington Post that Sanders’s voters “helped her craft and promote the most progressive platform in Democratic Party history.”
“As Hillary Clinton said in those remarks, she wants young people to be idealistic and set big goals,” said Caplin. “She is fighting for exactly what the millennial generation cares most about — a fairer more equal, just world. She’s working to create new pathways to jobs and career opportunities, to build more inclusivity and community, and to ensure everyone gets a fair shot. She believes that the most diverse, open-minded generation in history wants their voice heard in this election and that’s why she worked with Senator Sanders on a plan to provide students with debt free college and it’s why she’s traveling the country listening to their concerns and talking about not only what’s at stake in this election, but her plan for the generation.”
On Sunday, Sanders will appear on ABC’s “This Week” and CNN’s “State of the Union,” where he is likely to be asked about the hacked Clinton audio. From there, he heads to Iowa and Minnesota, both states where his popularity is higher than Clinton’s, for rallies to drive early voting turnout.