Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who staged a surprising but ultimately failed run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, found himself under attack Wednesday after he made remarks at an event commemorating the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr,’s assassination that appears to dismiss the presidency of Barack Obama — the United States’ first African-American president — as a “failure.”
In the remarks delivered in Jackson, Mississippi, Sanders characterized Obama as a “charismatic individual” and an “extraordinary candidate,” but he blasted the past 15 years as a “failure” for the Democratic party. Those 15 years would include the eight years of the Obama presidency, from 2009 to 2017.
Sanders lost the 2016 Democratic primary race to Hillary Clinton by a margin of abut 12 percentage points. In Mississippi, Clinton defeated Sanders overwhelmingly, with 83 percent of the vote to 17 percent for Sanders. Sanders’ defeat was largely attributable to his huge deficit with African-American voters in the state, gaining only 11 percent of those voters, compared to Clinton’s 89 percent.
But at Wednesday’s event in Jackson, Sanders appeared dismissive of Obama’s presidency.
“The business model, if you like, of the Democratic Party for the last 15 years or so has been a failure. People sometimes don’t see that because there was a charismatic individual named Barack Obama,” Sanders said. “He was obviously an extraordinary candidate, brilliant guy.”
Watch Sanders deliver his controversial remarks in the video below.
Bernie Sanders: “Democrats only approve of Obama because he has charisma” pic.twitter.com/MLRdPEM2OP
— (@Patrickesque) April 5, 2018
The negative reaction to Sanders’ remarks, especially on the social media platform Twitter, was so swift and overwhelming that one political expert, former South Carolina state legislator and now CNN commentator Bakari Sellers, declared Sanders’ long-rumored 2020 bid for the presidency to be dead.
But Sellers was far from the only shocked and angry reaction to Sanders comments on Twitter. Westworld actor Jeffrey Wright was among the first to register his response on his Twitter feed.
The reactions quickly came pouring in, with Sanders even branded an advocate of “white supremacy.”
Sanders was also attacked for ignoring Obama’s record while in office, focusing only on his strengths as a political candidate.
Some tweets criticized Sanders for what they said was a lack of accomplishments during his “30 year” career in Congress. Sanders was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1990, meaning that he has served continuously in Congress for slightly more than 27 years.
But on Thursday, Sanders himself took to Twitter to dismiss those who criticized him for the Obama remarks, accusing them of having “degraded our discourse.”
But many Twitter commenters remained unimpressed with Sanders’ defense of his remarks.
Just one day before making his remarks in Mississippi, however, Sanders recorded an interview on a Vermont radio station, in which he responded to criticism that he has failed to adequately represent minorities in the state by saying that he will “try to do better.”
But in the interview, Sanders went on to defend his record on racial issues.
“I think if anyone looks at my record here in Vermont and nationally on issues of racial justice, I think it’s a pretty strong record and will continue to be,” he said, according to an account on the Vermont Digger news site.