The Democratic presidential candidates are back at it, having debates about scheduling more debates. Over the weekend, Sen. Bernie Sanders publicly challenged Hillary Clinton to face off on a debate stage in New York before the state’s primary on April 19. On Monday, a top Clinton staffer said not so fast.
The Sanders and Clinton campaign have tussled since the start of campaign season over the number of debates. But it seemed like those silly tiffs were finally settled back in January, when the two campaigns agreed to meet for debates once a month through May.
Now the Clinton campaign is sounding less sure about that agreement. Joel Benenson, the campaign’s chief strategist, said on CNN Monday morning that Sanders needs to watch his tone, or else the Clinton campaign will pack up its ball and head home. “The real question is, what kind of campaign is Sen. Sanders going to run going forward?,” Benenson said when asked about Sanders’ request for a New York debate.
“Let’s see the tone,” Benenson continued when pressed about why Clinton was reluctant to debate. “This is a man who said he’d never run a negative ad; he’s now running them, they’re planning to run more. Let’s see the tone of the campaign he wants to run before we get to any other questions.”
Benenson added, “Let’s see if he goes back to the kind of tone he said he was going to set early on. If he does that, then we’ll talk about debates.”
The problem with Benenson’s argument is that the 2016 Democratic primary has been one of the most remarkably friendly contests in recent memory. While Republican Party leaders mount a #NeverTrump campaign as the front-runner mocks the appearance of his opponent’s spouse, the Democratic candidates have largely focused on minor policy differences, with Sanders waving away efforts to get him to attack Clinton for using a private email server. Sanders regularly says he’ll back Clinton if she’s the nominee and encourages his supporters to do the same. And Sanders has yet to call Clinton’s success “the biggest fairy tale” or circulate old photos of Clinton to question her religious beliefs—actions the Clinton camp took during the far nastier 2008 Democratic race.