Fresh off of Wednesday night’s CNN town hall came an actual New Hampshire debate just a few days before voters go to the polls. While last night’s event was fairly uneventful, I think most expected a bit more substance tonight as this would be the first debate with just Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on the stage.
With tensions fairly high over the accusations Sanders has made about the authenticity of Clinton’s progressive roots, tonight was expected to be fairly spirited. And while the candidates were mostly respectful of one another, things did get rather intense at times. I thought it made for a fantastic back and forth, with Rachel Maddow and Chuck Todd doing a solid job of giving each candidate a chance. I’m a big fan of passion and I saw plenty from both candidates tonight.
Hillary Clinton was clearly “swinging for the fences” tonight. She was confident, fiery and definitely assertive. Early on in the debate, her and Sanders went at it over some of the attacks he’s levied against her and I think she did well in addressing most. While I’m not sure she’ll change many (if any) minds in New Hampshire, I think tonight’s performance will serve her well going forward in other states.
When it comes to foreign policy issues, Clinton is easily more versed about what’s going on in the Middle East and understands how complex the problems going on in Syria, Libya and Iraq are. Even tonight when they started talking about the Middle East, Clinton goes in-depth about the issues going on there and what we need to do and Sanders often goes back to the 2002 vote on Iraq. Clinton made a good point when she said that a vote in 2002 is not a plan to defeat ISIS. While I agree that Clinton’s vote for the Iraq war was a massive mistake, I think Sanders uses that talking point far too often. Saying Clinton is unfit to make judgements on all Middle Eastern issues based on one vote in 2002 about Iraq is like saying Sanders is unfit to tackle gun violence because he voted against the Brady Bill five times. It’s not that Sanders has bad ideas on the Middle East, he just doesn’t seem to fully grasp all of the facets and the complexities of what’s going on in the world.
I thought Bernie Sanders stumbled a couple of times tonight, but his overall performance was fine. One of the issues I’ve had with Sanders in past debates is, when he gets pushback on his talking points, he visibly shows that he’s annoyed and thinks the questioning is beneath what he thinks is important. I think that’s valid some of the time. After all, the media is known for asking some rather pointless “gotcha’ questions” clearly meant to create drama. That being said, like Clinton, he was incredibly impassioned tonight and he and Clinton had some rather fantastic exchanges. Clearly he’s the candidate who reaches Americans best when it comes to income inequality, campaign finance reform and addressing middle class concerns. Those are his strongest qualities and he displayed them very well tonight.
As for who “won,” while that’s always subjective, I’m giving tonight to Hillary Clinton. Not to say Sanders performed poorly, but she was definitely on the offensive tonight and too often Sanders reverted back to his usual talking points. While Clinton wasn’t flawless (blowing off the question about her speech transcripts was definitely a weak moment) she was more assertive and had a better command of most of the questions. I believe it kept Sanders on the ropes, reverting to his usual talking points for a lot of the evening.
While I like Martin O’Malley, tonight was great to see just the two main candidates on stage. Though with New Hampshire being in Bernie’s “backyard,” nobody expects him to lose on Tuesday. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Clinton’s numbers improve slightly, though not a great deal.
One thing I love most about these Democratic debates is how they talk about the issues. When Republicans debate, almost everything they say is an attack on President Obama or Hillary Clinton, often using petty personal attacks and pre-rehearsed lines for cheap applause points. While Republicans get mentioned in rare moments, Clinton and Sanders keep focused on the issues instead of pointless shots at their GOP rivals.
But as with all of these debates, I’m always proud to have these two particular candidates representing my party. While they don’t agree on everything (though they do agree on most), it’s always refreshing to watch these candidates have substantive debates about the issues as opposed to the petty circus-like atmosphere that usually accompanies the GOP debates.
And as I’ve said countless times before, I would be proud to support either of these candidates as our next president. As we go further into this primary election, with liberals divided, we must all remember that this election is as much about supporting the candidate we think should lead this nation as it is about making damn sure Republicans don’t retake the White House in November. With the Supreme Court, the health care for millions of Americans, gay rights, women’s rights and the advancements we’ve made to combat climate change all on the line this election, liberals cannot lose. If we do, this country might never recover from the damage a Republican president will assuredly do over the next four years.