Opinion: Memo to Hillary: No mud-slinging

By Former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

Dear Hillary,

It’s your old friend from New York politics. Don’t be put off by my last name. Bernie Sanders is no relative of mine. And although I respect his candidacy and his social egalitarian views, I do not think that he would make a particularly good President. I also think that there is a risk that were he the Democratic Party nominee that some crazy person like Donald Trump or Ted Cruz could beat him. So my advice to you is sincere. I believe that you have the best chance of winning the Presidency of any Democratic candidate and holding back the darker impulses of some in the electorate. But this election is not a slam dunk, and you could lose. But if you employ the tactics of destruction you could win the battle but lose the war.

Right about now I suspect there is some panic setting in your campaign as the polls show you lagging behind Bernie in Iowa and then followed by New Hampshire. Over the summer you led in both states by over 20 points and now you trail. Uh-oh. But six months ago nobody knew Bernie Sanders and you were running virtually unopposed. So a tightening of the race was inevitable.

There are some around you who will want to respond to the Bernie surge with the typical negative campaign response. “Hit him hard” I am sure they are telling you. “Go after him with a vengeance” others are chiming in. This is the typical political response. And if you succumb to the temptation it will cost you dearly. So here is my advice: Stay on the high road!

Oh I know that this is counterintuitive, and perhaps against yours and your husband’s political instincts and experience. But have you noticed that 2016 is a different year with prior political expectations not operating to form? How else can you explain the fascination with Donald Trump and others on the Republican side with either no political experience, or those who want to appeal to the angry mob… or instigate one.

No… 2016 is a different year. People are fed up with politics as usual and they are looking for authenticity. For the past year you have treated Bernie as a colleague and gentleman albeit someone who wants the same office that you seek, which is his right. To change that narrative through a campaign lurch to personal destruction will only add fuel to the fire for those who believe that you calculate everything for your political advantage and that you feel “entitled.” Remember, nobody has a right to the Presidency.

Going after Bernie on a personal basis with nasty sound bites or negative ads will only reinforce that perception of you and probably drive the Bernie voters and independents away from your campaign. You are going to need them in the fall if you hope to defeat your Republican opponent.

You may well lose Iowa and New Hampshire in the next few weeks. Don’t panic. Iowa has a history of selecting underdogs and New Hampshire is practically the home State to Bernie. If you lose those States take the defeat graciously and move on to the other 48 states where your advantages are significant. Win the nomination without a scorched earth approach to your primary opponent and go on from there.

You don’t need to be nasty to be tough. By going negative you run the risk of turning off the very supporters you will need to win a general election. So have faith that after 25 years on the national political stage, people know enough about you and respect you well enough to elect you President. If they do not, then bearing your teeth will not help.

If being Hillary Clinton without another makeover is not sufficient after all this time, perhaps it was never meant to be.

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