The Times has a sort of pre-mortem in which people associated with the Sanders campaign wonder if they might have pulled it off if they’d made personal attacks on Hillary Clinton earlier. I’d say, probably not.
As I see it, the Sanders phenomenon always depended on leaving the personal attacks implicit. Sanders supporters have, to a much greater extent than generally acknowledged, been motivated by the perception that Clinton is dishonest, which comes — whether they know it or not — not from her actual behavior but from decades of right-wing smears; but Sanders himself got to play the issue-oriented purist, in effect taking a free ride on other peoples’ character defamation. There was plenty of nastiness from Sanders supporters, but the candidate himself seemed to stay above the fray.
But it wasn’t enough, largely because of nonwhite voters. Why have these voters been so pro-Clinton? One reason I haven’t seen laid out, but which I suspect is important, is that they are more sensitized than most whites to how the disinformation machine works, to how fake scandals get promoted and become part of what “everyone knows.” Not least, they’ve seen the torrent of lies directed at our first African-American president, and have a sense that not everything you hear should be believed.
So now, in a last desperate attempt to beat the arithmetic, the Sanders campaign is turning the implicit character attack explicit, and doing so on the weakest possible ground. Clinton, who has said that coal is on its way out, is a tool of the fossil-fuel industry because some people who work in that industry gave her money? Wow.
Still, maybe it can work — although you need to remember that Sanders needs landslide victories in what’s left of the primary. The problem is that if it doesn’t work, Sanders will have spent a couple of months validating Republican attacks on the Democratic nominee (or, if he somehow pulls off an incredible upset, deeply alienating lots of progressives he’s going to need himself.)
But what an ugly way to end a campaign that was supposed to be positive and idealistic.