Clinton-Sanders Tensions ‘Potentially Explosive,’ Expert Says

Clinton represents past, Sanders the future of the Democratic Party, says Pope “Mac” McCorkle

Tensions like those now boiling in the camps of Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are not unprecedented in the history or presidential primary battles.

But there is one stark difference in this year’s contest, says Pope “Mac” McCorkle, an associate professor of the practice at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy.

“The Clinton-Sanders conflict involves something more than a hard-fought fight between different candidate personalities or even a simple changing of the guard in a party,” says McCorkle.   “What makes management of this conflict so tricky and potentially explosive is that the losing Sanders side seems to represent the future of the party and the winning Clinton side seems to represent its past. It is hardly self-evident how the Democrats can negotiate a settlement that unites the party behind Secretary Clinton in 2016 but also accepts the need to pass the torch.”

Democrats thought they had successfully made this transition in 2008 with President Obama's victory, adds McCorkle.

“But on the ideological scale, the Sanders side is demanding a far more radical economic message and a total party divorce from Wall Street,” he says. “And party peace may depend on the Democratic establishment and Clinton feminists finding some way to embrace a more full-throated economic populism.”

Simultaneously, the Sanders' insurgency has failed to attract strong support from the loyal Democratic base of African-American and Hispanic voters, says McCorkle, who has worked as an issues consultant to political candidates and state governments, including former North Carolina Democratic Govs. Mike Easley and Bev Perdue.

“Bernie’s campaign has to recognize that its claim to the future remains limited because its constituency represents a step backwards compared to Obama, and now even Clinton, on the multicultural front.”

Finding a “workable peace” between the two sides could be very challenging to negotiate, and simple notions of compromise are probably not sufficient, according to McCorkle.

“Both Secretary Clinton and Sen. Sanders will have to exhibit a savvy sense of statesmanship that at least implicitly acknowledges the weaknesses in their own candidacies.”