News & Opinion

Political interview

Jane Sanders: Bernie and I will vote Hillary if we have to

The Daily Beast

April 13, 2016

Jane Sanders and her husband Bernie will support Hillary Clinton if the latter beats Bernie Sanders in the Democratic presidential nomination race.

Mrs. Sanders, in an interview with The Daily Beast on Wednesday, said they would hope Bernie’s supporters would follow their lead.

Conversely, if Bernie Sanders secured the nomination, Mrs. Sanders said she hoped Clinton and her supporters would support him.

In a wide-ranging, candid interview, Mrs. Sanders also said the superdelegate system—currently weighted significantly in Clinton’s favor—was unfair, yet predicted that she is hopeful that a number of those superdelegates, and their thousands of votes, could be convinced to switch their support from Clinton to her husband.

The Daily Beast spoke to Mrs. Sanders with just hours to go before Bernie Sanders’s rally in New York’s Washington Square, and just a week until New York Democrats pick a primary winner.

“I know Donald Trump has complained about the system,” Mrs. Sanders said. “We’re not going to complain about it. We knew the rules going in. We don’t like the rules. We don’t think it’s good for democracy. I think it’s crazy that in New York anybody who wanted to vote for Bernie had to make a change last October to say they were in the Democratic Party. Anybody who is independent cannot vote.”

Mrs. Sanders said her husband’s campaign was “trying to reinvigorate the party and we are. We are bringing many, many more people in across the country and yet in New York they’re slamming the door on those people. They can’t have a voice. That seems counterproductive to what the Democratic Party wants to accomplish in terms of winning not just the presidency, but to win governors’ seats and seats in the House and Senate.”

She dismissed Clinton campaign claims that Bernie’s camp was attempting to “rig” the election by “flipping” the votes of superdelegates. “How could we be rigging it? We’re not in charge of anything,” she said, laughing.

“Superdelegates, first off, I think, are silly. They’re 30 percent of the vote that a candidate needs to become the nominee. How fair is that? I am a voter. I have one vote, yet you’re a superdelegate and count for thousands and thousands of votes. That doesn’t make any sense at all. ‘One person, one vote’ is what democracy is supposed to be about.”

The “rigging” claims did not “make sense,” Mrs. Sanders said.

“In 2008, many superdelegates had signed up for Hillary Clinton, very early, before Barack Obama.”

The same was true this year, though this time the opponent was Bernie Sanders, she said.

“In the end in 2008, the superdelegates moved to Barack Obama. This year, the superdelegates have not been counted yet, their votes have not been cast. Some are saying now they support Hillary Clinton. About half.

“If the superdelegates are using their judgment, my hope is that they are looking at what is happening in this race—that he [Bernie Sanders] has won eight of the nine most recent races, that he has far better polling numbers against all the Republicans, that he can get not just Democrats but Independents.

“Even in his last Senate race, 25 percent of Republicans in our state voted for him—and we can do that nationally as well. He’s in a much better position to be the Democratic Party candidate. Superdelegates will make up their minds. It has nothing to do with rigging, but it could happen just like it happened in 2008.”

On the more rancorous exchanges between the Sanders and Clinton campaigns, Mrs. Sanders said, “I think if you compare it to the Republicans it’s nothing. I think it’s been difficult for us to have distortions of the record, when really what we want to focus on is a clear choice between the two candidates.”

For Mrs. Sanders, “there is a stark difference” between her husband and Hillary Clinton, “in a number of areas. That’s what we should be talking about, that’s good for democracy, that’s what people need to hear.”

When asked if she ever advised her husband to moderate his tone, Mrs. Sanders said he was being criticized over a statement he made in response to the Clinton strategy to “disqualify and defeat” him, “and worry about uniting the party later.”

Mrs. Sanders was referring to an unnamed top Clinton advisor’s battle plan, as conveyed to CNN last week.

“Then we watched surrogate after surrogate and Secretary Clinton herself on the air attempting to disqualify him, which means to make [him seem] unqualified,” Mrs. Sanders said.

She said that her husband, in response, “had said ‘Let’s talk about the issues’ about what makes somebody unqualified.

“His attempt may not have been as articulate as we might have preferred, but his attempt was to turn the page to say, ‘Let’s look at trade: Secretary Clinton is pro-free trade, pro-NAFTA, pro permanent trade relations with China, and pro-TPP [the Trans-Pacific Partnership], until the very end, after it was too late.’”

Her husband, she added, had noted that Clinton had voted in favor of the Iraq War, having seen the same information that had led Bernie Sanders to vote against it.

Mrs. Sanders said, “Secretary Clinton has a regime change policy that was borne out of Libya. Bernie does not believe in regime change policy. He was trying to say, ‘OK, if you’re looking at who’s qualified, let’s look at the qualifications you’re looking for as a voter.’ I think the media has made more of it than either candidate.”

This reporter asked Mrs. Sanders if she was concerned that voters in both the Clinton and Sanders camps were so partisan they would not vote for the other Democratic candidate in a general election. She replied that “they [Democrat voters] were feeling annoyed at both sides. If Bernie wins, hopefully Secretary Clinton’s supporters will support him, and if she wins we hope our supporters will support her. It’s nowhere near as rancorous as it was between Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton back then.”

Would her husband support Clinton if she became the candidate?

“I think both of them will support the other,” said Mrs. Sanders.

Her husband’s temperament has also come under scrutiny. When asked if she had ever advised him to “take it down a notch,” Mrs. Sanders said, “No, no, no.

“I think everybody has seemed annoyed at times,” she added. “I remember Secretary Clinton looking quite angry. I think we’re talking about important issues that affect people’s lives. 25 percent of our children in America live in poverty. Yeah, that’s something to be angry about. Climate change is real, and the fossil fuel industry is pouring tons and tons of money into campaign contributions. That’s something to be angry about.

“You look: 18,500 people in the South Bronx last week. Nobody was worried about his temperament. They were wild about his ideas he was bringing forth and saying, ‘We are with you, we are going to work for the same ideas.’”

When asked if her husband’s success had surprised them both—given that early consensus seemed to favor a smooth coronation for Clinton—Mrs. Sanders replied: “We knew that his ideas were mainstream American ideas. If he had a fair hearing we knew they would resonate. We were surprised at how fervently they have been embraced by young voters, and how many people who are disenfranchised voters: people who had given up on the system are coming back.

“It has been humbling and quite an honor to have that kind of support and encouragement and commitment to the future. So I think we were surprised to that. We were more intellectually thinking they would resonate. We didn’t realize emotionally how much they would resonate both for people and for us.”

For Mrs. Sanders personally, the campaign has proven “exhilarating and wonderful in terms of meeting so many people around the country, and learning about specific issues”—she cited “Latinos,” “immigration,” and “Native Americans”—but also in terms of understanding and hearing that the general issues that Bernie Sanders raises are, she said, issues of concern for all Americans.

“They want a government of the people, by the people and for the people. They want a government that recognizes that at the center of policy should be a concern for Americans’ quality of life, and their ability to live life in security and dignity by just working hard and getting a fair shake.”

Had the campaign bought her more or less turmoil than she had expected?

“I wouldn’t say turmoil,” Mrs. Sanders replied. “I would say it’s hard to be away from the kids and the grandkids as much, but it’s an honor to be able to be part of this. And it’s been very invigorating for me to see the support, interest, and commitment to transform this country to what we all want it to be ideally, and people are willing to do the work and support Bernie in that endeavor. It’s wonderful.”

I asked Mrs. Sanders if she had thought about the possibility of living in the White House.

“I haven’t, you know,” she said. “I mean, I’m more focused on what we could do if he gets into the White House.”