Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton momentarily poured gasoline on the simmering feud between her and Sen. Bernard Sanders, saying in a new interview the Vermont socialist is a career politician who “nobody likes” and refusing to say whether she would endorse him if he wins the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Mrs. Clinton said late Tuesday that she would do whatever she can to support the nominee, but the resumption of the 2016 beef came at an inopportune time for Mr. Sanders. He’s in the thick of a primary battle and trying to downplay a disagreement with Sen. Elizabeth Warren over whether he told her a woman couldn’t win the White House.
Mr. Sanders and his team tried to shrug off Mrs. Clinton’s explosive comments, but the lingering resentment illustrates that some of the wounds from her battle against Mr. Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 still run deep and could threaten to fracture the party just as voters prepare to head to the polls in early voting states.
“We’re in 2020 — we’re not in 2016. We’re not in 2017, ‘18 or ‘19,” said Jim Zogby, a Sanders supporter and longtime member of the Democratic National Committee. “It’s a shame. It didn’t need to happen. It shouldn’t happen, and I’m really disappointed that she chose to do this at this point.”
Some Iowa voters welcomed the harsh critique of Mr. Sanders.
“I am still mad at Bernie Sanders,” Mark Lettow said at an event for former Vice President Joseph R. Biden in Ames. “Hillary Clinton I feel would have won that last election if Bernie Sanders would have thrown his support wholeheartedly behind her from early on when he dropped out of the race.
“So, yeah, I still got a burn under my saddle for Bernie Sanders,” the 69-year-old said. “I think Bernie is all for himself. He is not a team player … Maybe that is why he’s an independent.”
Others questioned Mrs. Clinton’s mindset.
“It doesn’t make sense to me,” said another Biden supporter at the event, who refused to share his name. “Maybe she is getting old and senile.”
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter published Tuesday, Mrs. Clinton said she was sticking by her assessment of Mr. Sanders that she made in a new documentary: “Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done.
“He was a career politician. It’s all just baloney and I feel so bad that people got sucked into it,” she said.
Mrs. Clinton said she wasn’t prepared to say whether she would endorse Mr. Sanders if he wins the Democratic nomination and criticized him for fostering a poor culture.
“It’s his online Bernie Bros and their relentless attacks on lots of his competitors, particularly the women,” she said. “And I really hope people are paying attention to that because it should be worrisome that he has permitted this culture — not only permitted, [he] seems to really be very much supporting it.”
Mr. Sanders said his focus was on the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump, which started Tuesday with Mr. Sanders and every other senator required to attend.
“Together, we are going to go forward and defeat the most dangerous president in American history,” he said in a statement.
After the firestorm, Mrs. Clinton tried to walk things back a bit.
“I thought everyone wanted my authentic, unvarnished views!” she tweeted Tuesday evening. “But to be serious, the number one priority for our country and world is retiring Trump, and, as I always have, I will do whatever I can to support our nominee.”
Sanders supporters had pushed back against Mrs. Clinton online, promoting tweets with #ILikeBernie.
Nina Turner, a national co-chairwoman for the Sanders campaign, urged supporters to stay “fierce” and “focused.”
“The moment to respond to resentful smears will come, but our mission is too important to stray from the work. ‘Perfectly timed’ attacks are meant to bait us away from expanding our coalition,” Ms. Turner tweeted.
Alexandra Rojas, executive director of the group Justice Democrats, had called Mrs. Clinton’s initial refusal to support Mr. Sanders “unacceptable, out-of-touch, and dangerous.”
The bad blood goes back to 2016 when allies of Mrs. Clinton thought that Mr. Sanders dragged his feet on supporting her after it became clear that she would be the nominee.
Mr. Sanders has bristled at the suggestion that he wasn’t sufficiently supportive, pointing to the numerous appearances on the campaign trail he made on behalf of Mrs. Clinton in her general election match-up against Mr. Trump.
Mrs. Clinton also suggested in the interview that she sided with Ms. Warren in her recent blow-up with Mr. Sanders, saying the press and the public need to hold everybody accountable for what their campaign says and does.
“This argument about whether or not or when he did or didn’t say that a woman couldn’t be elected, it’s part of a pattern,” Mrs. Clinton said. “If it were a one-off, you might say, ‘OK, fine.’ But he said I was unqualified. I had a lot more experience than he did, and got a lot more done than he had, but that was his attack on me.”
Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren are at odds over the newly disclosed particulars of a private conversation they had in 2018 about the 2020 presidential race.
Ms. Warren said Mr. Sanders told her he didn’t think a woman could win the presidency, which Mr. Sanders has repeatedly denied saying.
Ms. Warren confronted Mr. Sanders after last week’s Democratic debate after he stuck by his version of events, saying: “I think you just called me a liar on national TV.”
⦁ Seth McLaughlin reported from Ames, Iowa.