MANCHESTER, New Hampshire – Not letting up his attacks on Bernie Sanders the day before New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary, former President Bill Clinton suggested he was biting his tongue in going after his wife’s Democratic opponent.
“Here is what I want to say. The hotter this election gets, the more I wish I was just a former president for just a few months, not the spouse of the next one because I have to be careful what I say,” Clinton said at a get-out-the-vote rally here for Hillary Clinton Monday afternoon.
Appearing with his wife and their daughter, Chelsea, Bill Clinton said Sanders is trying to shut down debate inside the party. “It bothers me to be in an election where debate is impossible because if you disagree you're just part of the establishment,” he said.
His comments come a day after he dramatically escalated his critiques of Sanders, saying the senator exists in a “hermetically sealed box” and suggesting he was not qualified to be president.
Hillary Clinton is trailing Sanders badly in New Hampshire in recent polling, but is hoping to narrow the lead on Election Day and call it an expectations-surpassing-win.
On Monday, without mentioning Sanders by name, Bill Clinton went on to slam the senator for saying that Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign are “part of some mythical establishment,” referring to comments Sanders made on MSNBC last month.
The former president went on to thank the young people supporting his wife, who are vastly outnumbered by those supporting Sanders. “They know they’ve got to translate their anger into answers and their resentment into results,” Clinton said.
Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, played the good cop to her husband’s bad cop. “To all the people who are supporting my opponent, I thank you too,” she said. “You may not support me now, but I will always support you.”
It’s a role reversal for the former first couple.
In Iowa, it was Clinton who delivered withering critiques from behind the podium in early January, while Bill Clinton stuck to softer terrain of vouching for his wife qualifications as president, as well as a spouse and mother.
An aide to the former president told MSNBC that Bill Clinton’s sharper tone was in response to Sanders escalating his own attacks on Clinton’s integrity and Wall Street ties, to which he took offense.
There could be political concerns, as well. While New Hampshire made Bill Clinton “the comeback kid” and propelled him to the Democratic nomination in 1992, he never really campaigned in Iowa. The former president also has higher favorability ratings than his wife, and Sanders’ sky-high ratings have been an obstacle for the Clinton campaign in landing attacks on Sanders.
The former president’s strong words have drawn comparisons to his tough remarks about Barack Obama in South Carolina in 2008, when he was seen as going rogue. While aides say there was no campaign-wide calculation to put the former president on offense, no one is complaining about it, either -- and they’re happy to see him defending his wife.