Here's why Bill Clinton is attacking 'sexist' Bernie Bros

The former US president's acerbic defense of his wife was not unprovoked, but it also points to a deeper frustration within the Clinton camp.

John Locher/AP
Former President Bill Clinton speaks at a rally at the United Brotherhood of Carpenters International Training Center in Las Vegas Feb. 5, 2016. Mr. Clinton came out in defence of his wife, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton after alleged Internet trolling by a group of young white Bernie Sanders supporters known as 'Bernie Bros.'

Why is Bill Clinton attacking “Bernie Bros?” Will that really help Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign?

If you’ve never heard the term, “Bernie Bro” (or “Berniebro”) refers to a particular strain of Bernie Sanders supporter. They’re described as male, generally young, often white, and fond of misogynistic comments and foul language about Mrs. Clinton’s presidential candidacy.

The extent of their actual existence remains unknown. It’s certainly true that Clinton supporters have been subjected to disgusting troll language in social media attacks. But the Sanders camp questions whether there are large numbers of real Bernie Bros out there. In any case, Senator Sanders himself has disowned them.

“Anybody who is supporting me that is doing the sexist things – we don’t want them,” said Sanders on Sunday on CNN.

Enter the Big Dog. In a campaign appearance in Milford, N.H., on Sunday, Mr. Clinton ripped into “sexist” and “profane” attacks on his wife and supporters of her presidential bid by Sanders backers. He described one pro-Clinton blogger who’d been forced to post columns under a pseudonym due to the nature of responding comments.

“She and other people who have gone online to defend Hillary and explain – just explain – why they supported her have been subject to vicious trolling and attacks that are literally too profane often – not to mention sexist – to repeat,” Clinton said.

The former president then pivoted to the larger theme of Sanders’s campaign, saying that it depicted anyone who opposed the Vermont senator as a corrupt tool of the establishment, and thus unworthy.

“When you’re making a revolution, you can’t be too careful about the facts,” said Clinton sarcastically. “You’re just for me or against me.”

This is tough stuff. What’s up with Clinton? Well, he’s probably expressing frustration, at the least. His wife is facing another months-long nomination fight. She narrowly won Iowa, but now she’s looking at almost certain defeat in the New Hampshire primary, where she’s 13 points behind Sanders in an average of major polls.

So perhaps Clinton decided to let things rip. He’s got a temper, remember, that’s landed him in trouble before. And as we noted, awful Internet comments are a real problem.

“The story of the Democratic primary to date has been that the former president has been on his best behavior. A new tone from Clinton would represent a new dynamic for the race, just as things heat up,” says ABC political analyst Rick Klein in today’s Note newsletter.

But if there’s a calculation behind the anger, it might be this: Hillary Clinton needs to do a better job of attracting female voters. What better way to do that then attack male trolls?

Clinton won women overall in Iowa by 11 percentage points. But among females she’s now eight points behind Sanders in New Hampshire, according to CNN poll data. That’s a big shift.

Young women in particular are rallying to the Sanders cause, reflecting the predilection of their generation rather than their gender. That’s caused frustration among older feminists who see what they consider the historic potential for the first woman president in danger.

Thus Gloria Steinem over the weekend had to apologize for grousing that young women were flocking to Sanders because “the boys are with Bernie,” points out The Washington Post. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright got in some trouble for saying “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”

“Clinton’s struggles with women underscore the extent to which she has not yet figured out how to harness the history-making potential of her candidacy in the same way that Barack Obama mobilized minorities and white liberals excited about electing the first black president,” write the Post’s Abby Phillip and Frances Stead-Sellers.

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