Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) may not have Hillary Clinton to contend with in this Democratic nomination process, but he's not about to let Clinton allies who are still active in the Democratic Party jump on the bandwagon of his success.
Over the weekend, Mediaite reports, Sanders' campaign "fired off an angry letter to [the] liberal think tank" Center for American Progress, now run by a longtime Clinton fan, Neera Tanden. The letter excoriated the Center for American Progress and it's 501(c)(4) offshoot, CAP Action Fund, for allowing an affiliated website, Think Progress, to attack Sanders for his "appearance" and for having earned more than a million dollars per year in 2017 and 2018, in part because of a bestselling book.
"Last week," Bernie and his team fumed, "you published an article on ThinkProgress criticizing me for my appearance and for the income I earned from writing a book. Then, a day later, you published a video that dishonestly attacked me for hypocrisy in my effort to address income inequality in America – a video that was excitedly discussed on many conservative websites.”
As Mediaite notes, the piece doesn't exactly call Sanders a hypocrite, though he's responded with a temper tantrum nearly every time he's asked about his newfound wealth, but it does point out that Sanders, once a millionaire, quickly went from decrying the greed of "millionaires" and "billionaires" to decrying the greed of "multi-millionaires" and "billionaires," conveniently exempting himself from his own criticism.
The author also pointed out that it seems Sanders feels his wealth is "very off-brand and embarrassing,” and that he and his campaign have taken pains to hide his status not just as a millionaire, but as the owner of three houses and other trappings of wealth, even though Sanders defends his own riches by saying he still supports a “progressive tax system which demands that the wealthiest people in this country finally start paying their fair share in taxes."
In his letter, Sanders called out Tanden specifically — one of Clinton's top staffers on her 2008 campaign — for “maligning my staff and supporters and belittling progressive ideas."
Center for American Progress is, of course, no conservative outlet and neither is Think Progress. To suggest that either group is even close to the middle is downright outrageous. It's also not directly affiliated with Think Progress, CAP claims, which they consider an "editorially independent" outlet under the umbrella of the 501(c)(4) but not directly related to it.
Center for American Progress is a generous donor to both progressive and moderate Democratic campaigns as well as to left-leaning PACs and organizations. They're not a particularly good enemy to have, either, since they control a large donor and influencer network that includes billionaire George Soros, the powerful Tides Foundation, and the always-flush-with-cash Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They partner with no less than the Carnegie and Rockefeller Foundations.
CAP also has direct links to the Podesta group, founded by John Podesta, a longtime Hillary Clinton ally and her 2016 campaign director.
So why is Bernie so desperate to earn their ire? It's possible that Bernie is sore about an article and that he's particularly vulnerable to attacks on his wealth coming from the Left. But more likely, Bernie Sanders' war with former Clinton allies is strategic. He did well, in 2016 and after, reminding his core followers that they were hated by "Establishment Democrats," and who better to represent that bogeyman in the 2020 contest than an organization led by recognizable Clinton-era names?
It keeps the wounds of 2016 fresh.
It seems to be working. In the last week, Sanders has gone from second place to first in the Emerson presidential poll, and he's the only candidate on the trail drawing significant crowds in early primary states. If he and his staff successfully reframe his candidacy as anti-Establishment (even though he's been in the Senate several decades), it could propel him to the nomination.