- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Sen. Bernard Sanders‘ relentless anti-Wall Street message may have reached its limits as a campaign tactic this week, foundering in the world’s financial epicenter and fueling questions about how long the maverick candidate can pursue his bid.

Mr. Sanders struggled in the run-up to Tuesday’s vote to explain exactly how he would break up large financial institutions — a proposal that has become a centerpiece for his insurgent campaign.

He also failed to give specific examples of how his Democratic presidential primary opponent, Hillary Clinton, has been influenced or controlled by Wall Street billionaires despite his constant effort to paint her as a bought-and-paid-for candidate.

Political analysts say it’s somewhat fitting that Mr. Sanders‘ crusade against Wall Street began running out of steam in New York, where Democrats went to the polls Tuesday and handed Mrs. Clinton a 16-point victory that stopped the momentum of the senator from Vermont dead in its tracks.

“When you make serious charges in the media capital of the world and you get enough coverage around those charges, you had better be careful to ensure you can prove them. What happened in New York is that everything he said came under scrutiny, and much of it didn’t hang together. It wasn’t credible,” said longtime New York Democratic political consultant Hank Sheinkopf, who has worked on campaigns for former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and others.

“When you’re running a populist campaign on charges that may or may not be accurate and your sole purpose is to create an emotional relationship to get you to win, fact doesn’t matter,” Mr. Sheinkopf added.

In his bid for the presidency — which has had more staying power than virtually anyone predicted — Mr. Sanders consistently has painted himself as a warrior of the people while casting the former first lady as a part of the “establishment,” a candidate dependent on support from Wall Street tycoons and powerful political allies.

But his attacks have fallen flat when he has asked for specific examples about Mrs. Clinton’s bowing to the will of billionaires.

At last week’s Democratic candidates debate in Brooklyn, Mr. Sanders was unable to say exactly how money has swayed his opponent.

“The obvious decision is when the greed and recklessness and illegal behavior of Wall Street brought this country into the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the ‘30s, when millions of people lost their jobs, homes and life savings. The obvious response to that is you’ve got a bunch of fraudulent operators and that they have got to be broken up,” he said in a general answer.

Mrs. Clinton pounced on the lack of detail.

“He cannot come up with any example because there is no example,” she said.

Similarly, Mr. Sanders has struggled to explain exactly how he would break up large financial institutions. In his interview with the New York Daily News editorial board, Mr. Sanders seemed to have no plan for accomplishing the bank breakup, a focal point of his campaign.

In subsequent interviews, he also could not offer any detailed proposals.

The Sanders campaign did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The Clinton campaign seems to realize that a narrative has begun to form in the Democratic race: Mr. Sanders is an idealist without a plan to enact his platform, while the former secretary of state is a pragmatist focused on the wonky policy details crucial to getting things done.

“Under the bright lights of New York, we have seen it’s not enough to diagnose problems. You have to explain how you actually solve problems,” she said in her New York victory speech Tuesday night.

Analysts say it’s too late for Mr. Sanders to adjust course at this point and begin floating detailed proposals for Wall Street reform and related issues.

His poor performance in New York largely was the result of the state’s closed primary system, which kept independents — who have supported Mr. Sanders in large numbers this cycle — away from the polls, and a similar fate awaits next week in Pennsylvania, Maryland and other closed-primary states, said Lara Brown, a political science professor at George Washington University.

“They’re headed toward more closed primaries next week, and I don’t think message or policy will matter,” she said. “He needs to accept that he’s gone much further than even he anticipated. He needs to be a gracious candidate now, not a revolutionary one, if he actually cares about the country doing the things he says he would like. In other words, the real question is, is he going to be a spoiler or is he going to be an endorser?”

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