How Clinton Made Sanders a Better Candidate

There has been a fairly prevalent narrative in recent months that Bernie Sanders has been good for Hillary Clinton, pulling what many see as her hawkish, centrist campaign to the left and forcing her to highlight areas in which she's stronger or more consistent, like her immense foreign policy knowledge or her record on gun control. Sanders' far-left and (fairly unchanging) opinions on most topics have been viewed as generally making Clinton shore up areas where she's weaker. All good points. I think, though, the time has come to count the ways in which the Clinton campaign has in turn been good for Sanders.

I confess to numerous moments of having myself felt the Bern, but I’ve long been turned off by Sanders’ one-note speeches and debate responses, much as I admire his consistency (not to mention the passion it takes to say the same three sentences over and over for 40 years). Just as I cringe when Trump is asked about foreign policy and responds, “We’re gonna build a wall, it will be a tremendous wall, we’re getting killed on trade, we lose with China, we don’t win anymore, look at my magisterial hands” (OK, that last one may have been made up), I dislike when Sanders is asked about Putin and wanders off on a tirade against the billionaire class, never to return.

Ryan Cooper, however, wrote today in The Week that Sanders had fixed the foreign policy – or lack thereof – issues that have plagued him in the past:

Fast forward to today, and Sanders has developed a strong foreign policy vision that is actually quite a bit better than I had hoped. This is undoubtedly due to him and his campaign working to fix a weakness, but some credit should also go to the Clinton campaign for helping dredge up some of Sanders' old, good foreign policy views.

In particular, Cooper cites a March 21 interview with Chris Hayes in which Sanders does indeed appear to have improved his foreign policy shtick:

This brings me great joy. And I agree that Clinton’s presence as a strong foreign policy candidate is at least partly responsible for this.

I also believe she is the reason that Sanders has been forced to reconcile with the sexism (the infamous Bernie Bros) rampant in his own base. Anyone who has ever tweeted something even vaguely pro-Hillary/critical of Sanders is familiar with the frenzied, sexist responses of such Bernie Bros. Though Sanders himself is certainly not to blame for the behavior of the Bros, he strongly condemned it last month in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper.

If you don't have your headphones, here's a sample:

Yeah, I have heard about [the Bernie Bro phenomenon]. It's disgusting. We don't want that crap. And we will do everything we can, and I think we have tried. Look, anybody who is supporting me is doing sexist things is -- we don't want them. I don't want them. That is not what this campaign is about.

That’s a great response. Concise, unambiguous, and definitive. There’s no hedging. You cannot misinterpret it. In a funny way, without Hillary’s presence Sanders likely never would have had to denounce certain sexist behaviors in such a no-nonsense manner.

I think it’s also worth mentioning that Clinton may have helped Sanders improve his record on race relations. Clinton has broad support among minorities, and notably with black voters in Southern states. Sanders, of course, does well with the #youths but has sometimes struggled in getting black voters to consider feelin’ the Bern. He got a few snaps when he hired a black press secretary back in August, but has lately been working overtime to play catch-up with Clinton’s generally strong support from the black community. And yes, the pressure for the white senator from a white state to plug this particular hole in his campaign has come from various outside sources — but at least part of that pressure has come from running against such a candidate as Clinton.

Though those who feel the Bern more strongly than I still have faith, it’s highly unlikely at this point (or at most any point, really) that Sanders will be the Democratic nominee. Nor do I think the people theorizing about a VP nod for the Vermont senator have much to go on. (Even if you can imagine Clinton offering to put him on the ticket, can you imagine Sanders accepting? Yeah, me neither.) But he’ll continue his career in the Senate as a stronger, more knowledgeable, and more well-rounded politician — and some of that will be thanks to his competition with Clinton.