IRELAND: Sanders plays the foil, making Clinton seem moderate

May 7, 2016

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders might be the best thing to happen to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

With little viable path remaining to his party’s nomination, Sanders is looking to instead focus his efforts on pushing the Democrats’ platform further left. However, his greatest contribution to the party might be favorably branding Clinton ahead of November.

In literature, we often talk of foil characters—those who help reflect the persona of a more prominent figure. Take Mark Antony to Brutus or Dr. Watson to Sherlock Holmes. Their primary contribution to a story is often their ability to demonstrate the unique qualities of another, not necessarily to advance the narrative themselves.

Sanders might be the best foil the Clinton campaign could have ever hoped for. Not only did he energize droves of new voters and help avoid an outright anointment, but he served to characterize Clinton in a more appealing light for the general electorate. All the while, he was comfortably behind where it mattered—the ballot box.

In previous columns, I have hit Clinton for her shortcomings of character. Make no mistake, she is still far from earning my vote, but “Crazy Bernie” has done her a lot of good for her general election matchup.

Sanders’ self-identified worldview of democratic socialism might excite a wide range of liberal groups and causes, but it also paints Clinton as a more moderate figure—and, in turn, a more electable figure.

Democrats this cycle seemed to compete on how liberal each could be. In the public relations battle for the hearts and minds of the far, far left, Sanders proudly won.

A longtime opponent of intervention in the Middle East, an advocate for breaking up banks once deemed too big to fail, and a promoter of universal health care, Sanders has excelled at staking out positions to Clinton’s left flank. As a result, she has struggled state by state to capture similar enthusiasm from her party’s ideological extreme.

Now let me be clear: Clinton is no moderate. She is markedly left of center.

Clinton today is far more “progressive” in her political worldview when compared to her disastrous 2008 bid and the presidency of her husband, Bill, or even that of Barack Obama. There is little question that her policy proposals reflect a worldview further left than any president in American history.

However, Clinton’s drawn-out primary race against Sanders has given her the upper hand in November. Of the candidates Democrats fielded in 2016—with maybe the exception of the now all-but-forgotten bid by former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb—she has come out appearing the most moderate of the bunch.

Further, Clinton has shown she can seal the deal in a competitive race—something that is a relief to party figures after her 2008 meltdown.

Sure, far-left groups once supporting Sanders and others are less than thrilled to advocate on her behalf, but she comes away with crossover appeal to centrists and independents. In a case where winning states like Ohio and Florida is key to claiming the White House, this takeaway will prove far more powerful.

More establishment-oriented Republicans often lament that you must lose the primary to win the general—I disagree. That said, the narrative of the cycle has been crafted in Clinton’s favor.

Clinton is no moderate, but Sanders sure helps make her look that way.•


Ireland is a college Republican at Indiana University. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.


Recent Articles by Andrew Ireland / Special to IBJ

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