In his first campaign appearance since a crucial loss in New York’s primary, Bernie Sanders on Thursday dialed back his rhetoric on Hillary Clinton -- only to ramp it back up later in the day.
Clinton’s rout in New York Tuesday all-but-crushed any remaining hope for Sanders to find a viable path to the Democratic presidential nomination, and many party members hoped the underdog would now ease off Clinton to avoid harming her general election prospects.
Sanders took the day off Wednesday to “think about... what he wants to say in the weeks ahead,” according to a top aide.
His appearance at a rally in Scranton, Pennsylvania Thursday morning offered the first glimpse into what he had decided.
While most of speech remained intact, Sanders dropped the most aggressive portions, which mocked Clinton for her lucrative paid speeches to large banks like Goldman Sachs. He didn’t go after her super PACs, nor contributions to her campaign from wealthy donors.
Sanders mentioned Clinton only a handful of times, in each to point out differences between their policy records. He drew contrasts with her record on the minimum wage, Social Security, fracking, trade, and the Iraq War, but didn’t dwell on them.
But any sighs of relief from anxious Democrats were quickly proven premature.
Just a few hours later, at a rally in Reading, Pennsylvania, rhetoric on Clinton’s transcripts and super PACs were back.
“When I talk about difference between Secretary Clinton and myself, one of the major differences is precisely how we raise money for our campaigns,” Sanders said. He noted Clinton has “several super PACs” that take money from Wall Street, and suggested that she herself “represent[s] Wall Street" and "the billionaire class.”
“In addition to that, as you know, Secretary Clinton has given speeches on Wall Street for $225,000 a speech. Not a bad day’s work,” he said, winding the crowd up for what has reliably become one of his best applause lines.
Sanders noted that Clinton has said she would release transcripts of those speeches if “other people will do the same.” So he said he was going to release the transcripts of his own speeches to Wall Street right then and there. “Here you are -- you got it?” he said as he waved his empty hands and the audience cheered.
He even added a new shot at Clinton on her support for a proposed tax on soda. “Frankly, I am very surprised that Secretary Clinton would support this regressive tax after pledging not to raise taxes on anyone making less than $250,000. This proposal clearly violates her pledge," he said. "A tax on soda and juice drinks would disproportionately increase taxes on low-income families in Philadelphia."
Asked why the transcript portion of his speech did not appear in the morning, only to return in the afternoon, Sanders spokesperson Michael Briggs replied, “no reason.”