Maybe Bernie Sanders wasn’t ready for the detail-heavy lines of questioning lobbed at him by the New York Daily News‘s editorial board this morning. At the very least, he didn’t sound ready.
Sanders, who has brought his message of economic justice and tougher financial regulations to the forefront of the Democratic nominating process, appeared unprepared to explain the specifics of his plan to dismantle the nation’s largest, riskiest banks as president.
As the most outspoken of the two Democratic candidates on the need to dismantle banks that are “Too Big To Fail,” Sanders couldn’t articulate how, in his first 100 days, he would address these institutions:
Daily News: Okay. Well, let’s assume that you’re correct on that point. How do you go about doing it?
Sanders: How you go about doing it is having legislation passed, or giving the authority to the secretary of treasury to determine, under Dodd-Frank, that these banks are a danger to the economy over the problem of too-big-to-fail.
Daily News: But do you think that the Fed, now, has that authority?
Sanders: Well, I don’t know if the Fed has it. But I think the administration can have it.
Daily News: How? How does a President turn to JPMorgan Chase, or have the Treasury turn to any of those banks and say, “Now you must do X, Y and Z?”
Sanders: Well, you do have authority under the Dodd-Frank legislation to do that, make that determination.
Daily News: You do, just by Federal Reserve fiat, you do?
Sanders: Yeah. Well, I believe you do.
The uncertainty in Sanders’s response was red meat for the punditocracy: The Atlantic wrote, “Even on bread-and-butter matters like breaking up the big banks, the Democratic presidential hopeful came across as tentative, unprepared, or unaware.” On Mediaite, Sanders was described as in “way, way over his head.” The Washington Post called it a “disaster.” And things didn’t get better as the interview went on:
Daily News: Okay. You would then leave it to JPMorgan Chase or the others to figure out how to break it, themselves up. I’m not quite…
Sanders: You would determine is that, if a bank is too big to fail, it is too big to exist. And then you have the secretary of treasury and some people who know a lot about this, making that determination. If the determination is that Goldman Sachs or JPMorgan Chase is too big to fail, yes, they will be broken up.
Daily News: Okay. You saw, I guess, what happened with Metropolitan Life. There was an attempt to bring them under the financial regulatory scheme, and the court said no. And what does that presage for your program?
Sanders: It’s something I have not studied, honestly, the legal implications of that.
Given the central role that breaking up banks plays in his platform, until this morning it seemed highly unlikely that Sanders wouldn’t have some cursory knowledge of relevant legal precedent or executive authority. But the interview showed a level of unpreparedness that’s surprising, especially this late in the game.
Sanders’s bungled answer is unlikely to hurt him much in the Wisconsin primaries, where he has a slight lead over Hillary Clinton as voters head to the polls today. But reactions may be different in New York, whose primary is on April 19th.