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Clinton Is 'Not Qualified'? Sanders Will Regret That Swipe

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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A flap has erupted in the Democratic nomination campaign about Bernie Sanders’s claim that Hillary Clinton is not “qualified” to be president because she accepts PAC money, voted for the Iraq War and has done other things Sanders doesn’t like.

1. In fact, Clinton is almost uniquely qualified thanks to her experience in various roles within the U.S. political system. That includes the White House, the executive branch, both chambers of Congress (as a senator and a House staffer), state government, interest groups, the private sector and within the party network. 

None of that guarantees she’ll be good at presidenting; people disagree on whether she performed well in those jobs. It does suggest, however, that she’ll need very little on-the-job training (unlike, for example, her husband, who had a very rocky first year). And that she won’t have much difficulty understanding the point of view of those she has to deal with. Or at least she won’t have the excuse of having never been in their shoes.

QuickTake How the U.S. Elects Its Presidents

2. Of course, that’s not what Sanders is talking about. He’s really just campaigning against Clinton, using “not qualified” the way one might use “wrong.” 

Whether Sanders is correct is for the party and voters to decide. But with the exception of the Iraq vote, this isn’t best read as a personal attack on Clinton. As Greg Sargent at the Plum Line put it, Sanders is making “an indictment of our entire political system,” including President Barack Obama, as part of what he calls his political revolution.

3. I doubt the particular wording will do much for Sanders, however. Personal attacks (even if they’re not really personal) will play well with his strongest supporters right now. But his problem in trying to win the nomination is reaching out to a large group of Democrats who like Clinton and would be happy with her as the nominee, but would consider voting for Sanders anyway. They might not respond as well to negative campaigning. Not to mention that plenty of Clinton supporters may be highly sensitive to suggestions that the potential first female president, a senator and secretary of state, is somehow not “qualified” for the office. 

4. Does this suggest a deep split within the Democratic Party? Down the road, perhaps. But I don’t see it as a problem for Clinton in November.

Ezra Klein says that “calling her unqualified for the presidency is going to make it rather awkward for Sanders to turn around and endorse her for that same office.” I don’t see why; there’s a long list of nomination losers who have said far worse things and then enthusiastically endorsed the candidate who defeated them. These are politicians. They’re trained and able to execute flip-flops with utter sincerity.

Nor is Sanders handing Republicans a particularly lethal line of attack. They have plenty of ammunition, and her qualifications for the job are not likely to be high on the list.

  1. Sanders is also saying that Clinton called him “not qualified,” which turns out not to be true.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net