The Bernie Sanders-Hillary Clinton War Of Words Just Got A Whole Lot Uglier

The race for the Democratic presidential nomination has been heating up since Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders won the Wisconsin primary on Tuesday. Until very recently, the Democratic candidates — Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — have generally respectfully avoided attacking each other. It's a stark contrast with the vitriolic Republican campaigns. In fact, for a while, Clinton stopped mentioning Sanders altogether, instead focusing on Donald Trump as if she had already won the nomination. However, this polite campaigning is over (for Sanders, at least). On Wednesday, Sanders questioned whether Clinton is qualified to be president.

At a Wednesday event in Philadelphia, Sanders said of his opponent,

Secretary Clinton appears to be getting a little bit nervous, and she has been saying lately that she thinks that I am 'not qualified' to be president. Well, let me, let me just say in response to Secretary Clinton: I don't believe that she is 'qualified' if she is, through her super PAC, taking tens of millions of dollars in special interest funds. I don't think that you are 'qualified' if you get $15 million from Wall Street through your super PAC. I don't think you are 'qualified' if you have voted for the disastrous War in Iraq. I don't think you are 'qualified' if you have supported virtually every disastrous trade agreement which has cost us millions of decent-paying jobs.

Though he phrased his statement as a response to a comment by his opponent, the Clinton campaign is clear that no such comment exists. Clinton has not said that Sanders is not qualified to be president. Rather, CNN reported that in a Wednesday morning MSNBC interview, Clinton merely said that voters need to "ask themselves can [Sanders] deliver what he's talking about."

In a Twitter response to Sanders' statement, Clinton's press secretary both refuted his claim and said that Sanders has disrupted the heretofore respectful tone of the Democratic race.

It seems as if Sanders has adopted the kind of rhetoric that some of his fans use on social media. Sanders supporters can be notoriously vitriolic against Clinton online. Instead of merely showing support for Sanders, they post statuses attacking Clinton. In fact, Sanders' comment was fodder for his supporters — #HillaryNotQualified has become a popular hashtag.

However, Clinton is not matching Sanders' new tone. Instead, she has proved that she plans to continue to treat her opponent respectfully. At a Thursday morning event in the Bronx, Clinton responded to Sanders' allegations about her qualifications, telling journalists, "I don’t know why he’s saying that, but I will take Bernie Sanders over Donald Trump or Ted Cruz anytime." It looks like Clinton cannot be deterred — she wants to focus on keeping a Republican out of the White House, not on attacking her suddenly adversarial opponent.

Clinton's social media supporters are also continuing their respectful support while fighting back against allegations against their candidate of choice, using the hashtag #HillarySoQualified.

Clinton is well aware of Sanders' habit of attacking other Democrats. In fact, Politico 's "Off Message" podcast released an interview with Clinton — just hours before Sanders' infamous statement — in which she suggested Sanders focus his attacks on other opponents: “I know that Sen. Sanders spends a lot of time attacking my husband, attacking President Obama. I rarely hear him say anything negative about George W. Bush, who I think wrecked our economy,” Clinton said. Again, Clinton proved that she believes that her opponent is not focusing on the people whose message and actions need to be called into question — in her belief the Republicans.

Clinton seems to know she is an irrefutably qualified candidate, but she doesn't want to waste time questioning Sanders' qualifications or engaging in his Democrat-on-Democrat attacks.