Campaign

Some Clinton aides not sure they can back Sanders

Some of Hillary Clinton's closest aides and allies say they're unsure if they could support Bernie Sanders if he becomes the Democratic nominee. 

Nearly four years after Clinton defeated Sanders in the bitter 2016 primary race, the animosity remains deep for many Clinton allies. 

They still blame Sanders for not campaigning wholeheartedly for the Democratic nominee, arguing that this contributed to her loss to President Trump. 

"I think a lot of people would have a huge problem checking that box for him," said one Clinton aide who remains undecided about whom to support during this presidential cycle. "I for one, am one of them. Bernie Sanders is part of the reason we have Donald Trump."

Sanders is the clear front-runner for the Democratic nomination after a convincing win Saturday in Nevada's caucuses. With a number of candidates effectively dividing the anti-Sanders vote, it seems entirely possible he could roll to a victory in the months ahead.

To be sure, some Clinton supporters are saying they could back Sanders if he is the party's nominee. 

"Democrats are going to unite behind whomever is the nominee in order to defeat Donald Trump," said Adam Parkhomenko, who co-founded the super PAC Ready for Hillary and also served as an aide on Clinton's 2016 campaign. 

Zac Petkanas, who ran Clinton's rapid response for her 2016 campaign, said Sanders would have his full support if he won the nomination. 

"Not only would I vote for Bernie Sanders if he's the nominee, I'd work my ass off to help his campaign defeat Trump any way I could," Petkanas said. "Anyone tweeting #NeverBernie for the general election is actually tweeting #AlwaysKidsInCages." 

"The No. 1, 2 and 3 goals must be to defeat Donald Trump no matter who emerges from the convention in Milwaukee."

But at least right now, Sanders is still causing some consternation for Clinton supporters.            

Democratic strategist Michael Trujillo, who worked on Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign and supported her in 2016, said he knows of just one Clinton backer who has gotten behind Sanders to date. 

"But he is on a lonely island right now," said Trujillo. "Bernie's arrogance in 2016 where it was 'him, not us' will not ever be forgotten, understood or forgiven."

Pressed on what would happen if Sanders did win the nomination, Trujillo replied: "Considering he honeymooned in Russia, likely lots of shots of vodka for us to come around."   

Sanders and his supporters have rejected the arguments from Clinton supporters that Sanders did not work hard for her victory in the 2016 election against Trump. This has further stoked divisions between the two sides. 

Clinton has made it clear she's not a Bernie fan.

She's blasted Sanders in several waves of comments, all of which could make it more difficult for her supporters and allies to back their old rival. 

In a new documentary, Clinton is scathing in her review of Sanders. 

"He was in Congress for years. He had one senator support him. Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done," she said. "He was a career politician. It's all just baloney and I feel so bad that people got sucked into it." 

Asked by The Hollywood Reporter in an interview published in January if she stood by the remarks, Clinton said she did.

Earlier this month, in an appearance on Ellen DeGeneres's talk show, Clinton faulted Sanders for promising his supporters things she said he will not be able to deliver.

"We need to rebuild trust in our fellow Americans and in our institutions and if you promise the moon and you can't deliver the moon, then that's going to be one more indicator of how, you know, we just can't trust each other," she said. 

But this week, Clinton said she would back whomever won the Democratic nomination. 

"I'm going to wait and see who we nominate," she said in Berlin at a German film festival. "I will support the nominee, and it won't surprise you to hear me say that I think that it's imperative that we retire the incumbent."

Philippe Reines, the longtime senior adviser to Clinton, said Sanders still needs to do more to repair the fracture created by 2016. 

While he said there's still "a lot of time to repair" the damaged relationship, he said Sanders isn't doing the work to mend fences between the two sides.

"The problem as I see it, to date he - and the people around him - have shown no desire to or recognition they need to," Reines said. "Most days it seems they're hellbent on re-litigating 2016 by showing he doesn't need to broaden his support within the party. But he does. Playing whack-a-mole by adding pockets of previously Trump voters but losing swaths of Democrats is not a winning formula."

Reines also said it would be in Sanders's interest to do so given how close the presidential election could be. 

"He wants to be president. He needs to convince tens of millions to help him do that," he said. "It's in his own self-interest to do so. Yet he doesn't. It's inexplicable." 

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