PLAY DIRTY OR NICE: Bernie Faces Stark Decision to Defeat Hillary

Which way do you think the Vermont Senator should go or does it even matter?

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders faces a stark choice after suffering a defeat to rival Hillary Clinton in the New York primary.

The Vermont senator could maintain, or even escalate, his criticism of Clinton on issues such as her speeches to Wall Street. Or he could seek to dial down the tensions in the race, which could help unify the party heading into the Democratic National Convention this summer.

If he chooses to attack, Sanders risks creating a vicious circle, some Democratic insiders say.

“He has … been in this situation where in order to break out, he gets more negative. But the more negative or strident he gets, the worse he does,” said strategist Joe Trippi, who ran Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential bid. “In a classic campaign, you can’t get there unless you break some eggs. But the more eggs he breaks, the messier it gets and the worse it is for him.”

The loss in New York Tuesday came after Sanders suggested Clinton’s ties to big business made her “unqualified” to be president. He also mocked her refusal to make public the transcripts of her speeches to Goldman Sachs. At several rallies, including one in Brooklyn two days before the primary, Sanders said Clinton’s words must have reached the standard of “Shakespearean prose,” given the $225,000 fee she received for delivering them.

But those lines of attack did not pay off for Sanders. He lost New York by 16 points — more than most polls had predicted — and appears to have little chance of overtaking Clinton in pledged delegates, barring an extraordinary change in the race.

Inside the Sanders campaign, there is considerable frustration at what aides see as an unfair double standard. Clinton and her allies play hardball themselves but, in the judgment of Team Sanders, do not receive harsh media coverage for doing so.

Aides to Sanders argue, for instance, that it was Clinton who started the “unqualified” flap by dodging the question of whether she thought Sanders was qualified to be president during a TV interview the morning after he beat her in the Wisconsin primary.

Still, the campaign seems to recognize that the tone of the New York fight did not do Sanders any favors.

Tad Devine, a senior adviser to the Sanders campaign, defended Sanders’s conduct in the furor over whether Clinton is or is not qualified, but he added, “The race doesn’t have to revolve around that.

“We are much better off just having dueling messages: They put their message out, we put our message out,” Devine said. “If they want to berate him repeatedly, he is going to defend himself.”

Devine also argued that the tenor of the New York campaign was in part a consequence of a “hothouse” media atmosphere in Manhattan. He said the states coming up next in the race — including Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Rhode Island, where Sanders has high hopes — represent “a little more of a traditional environment” where “the tone might be a little different.”

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