- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 7, 2016

The war of words between Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernard Sanders turned nastier Thursday and now threatens to drive a permanent wedge between the two sides, as the Vermont senator’s campaign fired back that Mrs. Clinton not only is unqualified to be president but also has made “a deal with devil” by accepting big-money donations from Wall Street.

The fight, which over the past two days has escalated into personal attacks as both candidates eye the key April 19 primary in New York, has now crossed a line, and both camps risk plunging the Democratic Party into the same kind of chaos seen on the GOP side, political analysts say.

There’s little sign that either candidate will blink first, with the Clinton campaign promising “consequences” for Mr. Sanders‘ attacks and the senator pledging to meet every affront with an equally brutal response.

The long-term ramifications could be disastrous for the party moving forward, according to Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston who has written on presidential leadership.

“Fights over policy and disagreements over issues are fine. Personal attacks and body blows about credibility and qualifications are a more serious problem,” he said. “The Clinton camp hasn’t found the right rhythm for how to deal with Sanders. First they ignored him, then they confronted him, then they challenged him, then they ignored him again in favor of going after the Republicans. This round-by-round change makes the party look like they are in disarray.”

Mrs. Clinton began the spat just hours after a landslide loss in the Wisconsin primary Tuesday, charging that Mr. Sanders isn’t a true Democrat, has voted to protect gun manufacturers from liability and has made flimsy policy proposals — such as his plan to break up big banks — that don’t hold up upon closer inspection.

Mr. Sanders responded in kind Wednesday night, saying Mrs. Clinton is unqualified to be president because, among other reasons, she voted in 2002 to authorize the Iraq war.

On Thursday, the senator further jumped into the fray and promised that any attack from the Clinton camp will be met in kind.

Mr. Sanders said he does have respect for Mrs. Clinton and that he’s tried to run an issue-oriented campaign.

“But if Secretary Clinton thinks that just because I’m from a small state in Vermont, and they’re going to beat us up and go after us in some kind of really uncalled-for way, that we’re not going to fight back they can guess again,” he said at a campaign event in Philadelphia. “This campaign will fight back.”

Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver took the attacks to another level during an interview on CNN later Thursday, accusing the former secretary of state of doing the bidding of Wall Street and arguing she’ll continue to do their work if elected president.

“If you look at her campaign, you know, her campaign is funded by millions and millions of dollars from Wall Street and other special interests,” he said. “You know, she’s really made a deal with the devil, and we all know the devil wants his money in the end.”

Mrs. Clinton called the attacks “silly” in an interview with NBC News Thursday and tried to turn the conversation toward the upcoming New York primary, saying voters will decide if she’s qualified to be commander in chief.

“That will be up to the voters of New York and the other states that will be passing judgment in the weeks ahead. I think it’s kind of a silly statement. But he’s free to say whatever he chooses,” she said.

But at the same time, her campaign and its surrogates are returning fire. The campaign on Thursday sent out an email urging supporters to donate more money in an effort to show Mr. Sanders there will be “consequences” for his attacks.

Moving forward, some Democrats say they’re worried about the damage the fight could do to the party, and they also say Mr. Sanders is hurting himself with female voters.

“I’m worried because we’ve got real work to do in November and we’ve got to stay united,” Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat and Clinton supporter, told NBC. “And calling Hillary Clinton not qualified is like fingernails on a blackboard to many women across this country, and I think Bernie probably knows that.”

Meanwhile, some progressive groups say Mrs. Clinton is guilty of “faux outrage” and that Mr. Sanders‘ attacks are perfectly in bounds.

“Most voters don’t see a dime’s worth of difference between what Bernie said last night [about Mrs. Clinton being unqualified, the campaign of disqualification Secretary Clinton’s campaign announced and launched following his big win in Wisconsin and the attacks Clinton waged against Obama in 2008,” said Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the liberal PAC Democracy for America, which supports Mr. Sanders. “The politics of faux outrage might play well on TV news, but it’s exactly the kind of Washington game-playing that Americans are most hungry to change.”

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