Bernie Sanders said Wednesday that Hillary Clinton is not "qualified" to be president, a sharp escalation in rhetoric in the Democratic primary.There was more:
"Secretary Clinton appears to be getting a little bit nervous," he told a crowd in Philadelphia. "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."
Here's the full Bernie Sanders quote on Clinton not being qualified: pic.twitter.com/GnIzTpAQFs— Alex Seitz-Wald (@aseitzwald) April 7, 2016
Sanders was responding to a Clinton interview on Morning Joe in which she repeatedly refrained from saying that Sanders is unqualified to be president, or even agreeing that the word "unqualified" applies, although she strongly questioned his grasp of the issues and his stance on gun liability. Sanders was responding to a Washington Post story about the interview with the headline "Clinton Questions Whether Sanders Is Qualified to Be President." The headline isn't really accurate.
I don't think Sanders literally believes Clinton is unqualified. What I think he's doing here is arguing like a New Yorker. New York arguments often have a tinge of echolalia. ("I'm full of shit? No, you're full of shit!")
But this might have been a significant gaffe, and not just because everything on the Sanders list except the Iraq vote is also true of the current president, who's still quite popular among Democratic voters, especially in the Eastern states that will host the next primaries (although the president is less of a favorite to the Sanders base).
This could be a problem because the assertion that Hillary Clinton isn't qualified to be president could feel to some voters like a Talese-esque dismissal of a woman who's earned the right to be taken seriously. It feels somewhat like Rick Lazio's aggressive walk to Clinton's lectern during a debate in the 2000 Senate campaign. In a way, it seems worse -- Lazio seemed to be making a calculated move that backfired, while Sanders seems to have said this because he's genuinely come to despise Clinton.
Then again, a lot more voters seem to despise her than even in 2000 (or 2008), so I'm not sure how this will play out. It could change the way the race is going. More likely, it'll just part of an ongoing series of ugly moments in a race that's now, shockingly, the uglier of the two primary fights. That needs to change soon. Democrats need to be the grown-ups to win.