What on earth were the Clintons thinking? This question has been plaguing political watchers ever since Chelsea Clinton, in her first solo campaign outing for her mom last week, threw a punch at Bernie Sanders. Specifically, Chelsea accused the Vermont senator of pushing a health-care agenda that would “dismantle” Obamacare and Medicare. The assault was misleading, to be sure. (Given his druthers, Bernie would implement a comprehensive single-payer system.) But it was the messenger more than the message that rocked people’s world.
Conservative websites gleefully denounced Chelsea the “attack dog.” Democrats, meanwhile, wrung their hands over why she of all people would be dispatched to do this kind of wet work. (As strategist Brad Bannon told The Hill, “This makes Chelsea just another political player in the arena, and if I was Chelsea, that’s not where I’d want to be.”) And a media bored to sobs with the Democratic primary leapt on the episode like ducks on a June bug. Commentators mused endlessly about why the Clinton camp had taken this route and what it meant. (Consensus: nothing good.) Bernie Sanders was repeatedly invited to respond. Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin might have sounded a smidge melodramatic when he asserted, “I have covered the Clintons since 1991. It takes a lot to surprise me, and I am stunned watching Chelsea Clinton go on the attack. Stunned. Never seen anything like it.” But that’s only if you missed Mark Shields’s proclamation on PBS: “The Clinton campaign this week, in perhaps the stupidest act of the entire year, took the one person who is a character witness, who’s a privileged observer of Hillary Clinton, who can testify about Hillary Clinton as human being ... Chelsea Clinton, and turned her into a political hack. I mean it was just absolutely reckless and stupid.”