Monday, 18 January 2016

Winners and losers from the 4th Democratic presidential debate

Hillary Clinton

© L and Senator Bernie Sanders Hillary Clinton
The fourth Democratic presidential debate -- and the last one before the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary next month -- is in the books.  The best and the worst from the night are below. And make sure to check out our annotated debate transcript!
Bernie Sanders: Yes, Sanders has one volume: Shouting. And, yes, he got tripped up a few times during the debate on his voting record -- especially on guns. But, throughout the debate's first hour -- the hour when most people, especially on the east coast and in the midwest, were watching -- he was the prime mover in virtually every discussion from Wall Street reform to healthcare to climate change. He was on offense, accusing Hillary Clinton of half-measures and political caution at a moment when boldness is required.
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Sanders held his own in the foreign policy focused second hour of the debate, something he had failed to do in debates past. And, he had one of his best moments of the debate at an unlikely time -- in response to a question about his criticism of Bill Clinton's behavior. Sanders turned the question into one focused on how the campaign he is running is about policy not personal differences -- to much applause.
More than anything he said though, it was the passion and disruption that Sanders oozed from every pore over the two hours that should convince Democrats on the fence about the race into his camp.  Sanders effectively positioned himself as the anti-status quo candidate in this race, a very good place to be in this electoral environment.
Martin O'Malley: Early in the debate, I had the Maryland governor pegged for the "loser" category because he was doing the one thing I hate: Complaining about how little time you have to talk. The truth is that when one candidate is in the 50 in national polling, another is in the 40s and a third is in the, well, twos, the candidate in the twos shouldn't get as many questions.
© Provided by WP Company LLC d/b/a The Washington Post
But, to O'Malley's credit, he turned the corner on getting ignored and by the end of the debate was downright likable. Will it change anything about his minuscule support in Iowa and New Hampshire? No. But kudos to him. He did well in an impossible situation.
One other important note about O'Malley: He tipped the scales to Sanders during a pitched fight between the Vermont Senator and Clinton over Wall Street reform.  O'Malley chimed in by bashing Clinton as a defender of the same old same old when it came to bank behavior -- doing Sanders a major favor in the process.
Rand Paul: The Kentucky Senator isn't going to be the Republican presidential nominee. But, he may have a future as a professional political tweeter. Paul's counter-programming of the Democratic debate via Twitter was sardonic and fun -- two things politics can always use more of.
*President Obama: Clinton went out of her way, repeatedly, to praise what the current president had done in office -- from Obamacare to Iran and back.  Sanders sought to downplay his differences with Obama by noting that "he and I are friends." Had O'Malley had time to talk, I am certain he would have praised Obama too.
Hillary Clinton: The former Secretary of State was, as always, solid. And, at times -- like in her closing statement on the water in Flint, Michigan -- she was outstanding.  Her knowledge -- both the depth and the breadth of it -- is on full display in these debate settings.
So, why is she in the loser column? Because she did nothing in the debate to slow the momentum that Sanders is building in Iowa and New Hampshire.  Aside from guns, where Clinton scored a clean hit on Sanders, she was unable to effectively cast him as a pie-in-the-sky idealist and herself as the only person who could truly fight  -- and win -- for Democratic priorities.
Time and again, she found herself boxed into defending a status quo that the American public -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- are dissatisfied with. This tweet from the New York Times Nicholas Kristof perfectly captures that sentiment:
The Clinton-as-cautious-pragmatist vs Sanders-as-idealist-fighter is not a good dynamic for the former Secretary of State.
Sunday night debates: Let's call the Democratic debate schedule what it is: ridiculous. A Saturday debate just before Christmas. A Sunday night debate just before a federal holiday. No debate from now until AFTER the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. Seriously? Say what you will about the Republican National Committee's attempts to influence the debate calendar. It pales in comparison to the travesty the Democratic National Committee has made of its own debates. Period.
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