Poli Sci Pulse is proud to bring you another feature-length article. This time, we head to Nevada and discuss the first Democratic Presidential debate. We now have a special guest editor, Rain Tahtinen.
In October of 2015, the Democratic Party had their first Presidential debate. Unlike the Republicans, who had so many candidates that two debates were needed every debate day to make sure all candidates were heard from, Democrats has only one debate with five candidates. There was the Senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders; the former Secretary of State and former Senator from New York, Hillary Clinton; former Marine and Senator Jim Webb; former Governor of Maryland Martin O’Malley; and former Governor and Senator from Rhode Island, Lincoln Chafee. The five would debate various issues throughout the course of the debate. However, the lead up to the debate actually began with a debate…about debating.
On October 2nd, 2015, a coalition of supporters of Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley, 80 in total, were arguing for there to be at least one more debate in New Hampshire, which is the home “first in the nation primary,” not to be confused with Iowa’s “first in the nation caucus.” The members of the coalition noted that there would only be one debate in New Hampshire on February 6th, three days before the primary. The first Democratic debate was in Nevada, and these coalition members simply wanted New Hampshire voters to see more of the candidates before the February 6th primary.
On October 5th, the speculation surrounding the debate began. The blog crooksandliars published a piece about Bernie Sanders’ debate style. The piece, written by Susie Madrak, and entitled, “Clinton vs. Sanders: Who Will Win the First Debate?” noted that Bernie was forgoing the usual debate preparation. This was because Mr. Sanders had decided that the debate was better-suited to be used as an “opportunity to talk about the issues he’s been talking about for decades.” The article also noted Sanders’ fiery temper. Republican Richard Tarrant was quoted as saying, “You can poke at him and get him angry, and he’s good at rolling out of it.” Tarrant went on to explain that he often used his stump message to get back on track if he was surprised and used facts and figures to make his point. “I don’t think Hillary stands a chance against him,” Tarrant concluded.
On October 6th, Politico’s Annie Karni wrote an article entitled “inside Hillary Clinton’s debate prep,” which discussed how Hillary Clinton was going to debate Bernie Sanders. With trailing polling numbers in New Hampshire, and a slim lead in Iowa, Clinton had been derailed from discussing any policy issues, and had to deflect accusation of wrongdoing as Secretary of State and the use of her private email server. Her strategy was going to be to dismiss Bernie Sanders’ solutions while embracing his ideals, and question his record on gun control, all while explaining that Sanders’ solutions were simply too expensive to implement. Hillary’s supporters wanted to see her “fight back” against Republican accusations and establish herself as a strong candidate, while also making sure she kept her debate answers short, unlike in 2008, in which her debate answers were much too long. She would also have to answer for why she supported the PATRIOT Act, the War on Iraq, the Defense of Marriage Act, and the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, all of which were currently regarded as mistaken policies. Thus, while Sanders was able to simply reiterate his talking points, Clinton needed to be both on the offensive against Republicans, but also on the defensive against past policies.
October 8th, 2015, Politico’s Gabriel DeBenedetti wrote an article titled, “Inside Bernie Sanders’ unorthodox debate prep.” In this article, it turns out that Bernie Sanders’ debate prep was simply to deliver his message and deliver a contrast with Clinton, though not attack her outright. While he had briefings with experts, Sanders didn’t do a lot of debate prep – if any at all. His main goal was to show people an alternative to Clinton, rather than try to destroy Clinton and thus alienate undecided primary voters. While Clinton was preparing an attack-and-defend strategy, all Sanders wanted was a discussion.
On October 9th, the New York Times wrote an article that described her legacy skills when debating. The article said that she struggles to land one-liners, but can discuss the intricacies of policies with a deft hand, oftentimes getting her opponents to agree with her. She also has a history with failing to keep her anger in check, as noticed with the way she deals with reporters when they ask about her email scandal. Like Sanders, she wanted to move beyond attacks and discuss policy points. Thus, while Hillary needed a strategy, she still welcomed debating policy.
Politico also ran an article in which the argument was also made that Hillary should not attack Bernie. In “Insiders to Clinton: Lay off Sanders,” Katie Glueck reported that most insiders believed that Clinton should not be on the offensive. They did not want her to alienate his voters, a crucial segment of her base that she would need to win the general election. A survey was conducted of Democratic insiders in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. The insiders in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, all concluded that no attacks against Sanders by Clinton should be made; Nevada insiders were split as to what to do. Many insiders wanted her to discuss why Sanders’ policies would not work, but advised against a direct confrontation and attack. Most of the insiders surveyed said that Clinton should make out Sanders’ policies to be “pie-in-the-sky” while providing a reasonable alternative.
On October 11th, Politico reported that Bernie Sanders was most likely going to parry with the press. In a piece titled “Bernie Sanders vs. the Lamestream Media,” the author argues that Sanders is going to try to coax the debate away from personal attacks and into a “high-minded and nuanced discussion about the policies and prescriptions that would help America.” Sanders, to date, had refused to attack Clinton, knowing that to do so would be the type of “sport” that the media wants. Instead, he has consistently gone after the media for making such provocations. Unlike Trump and Clinton, who seemed to enjoy fighting with the press, Sanders refused to play their game. If Clinton was readying her battle plan, then she should not be prepared to be on either the offense or the defense with Sanders, and instead focus her attacks on the other opponents.
Martin O’Malley opposed a no-fly zone in Syria on CNN’s State of the Union. This aligned himself closer to Bernie Sanders and less towards Clinton. O’Malley also remarked, “Secretary Clinton’s always quick for the military intervention.” He also called for more debates. On that same show, the following guess, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz ignored the call, stating that she was “excited” for the first debate.
“James Carville” sent out a Clinton fundraising message. Carville, as fans of Bill Clinton will know, is a long-time supporter of the Clintons, going back to Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign, in which he was a Campaign District Manager. The message read, “the number one thing us Hillary supporters need to do to get ready for the first debate is let her know that we’re with her,” and asked supporters to contribute $1 to become a “Debate Donor.”
On October 12th, CNN told Politico that it expected “significantly smaller” ratings for the debate. Viewership was expected to pale in comparison to the 23-24 million viewers of the first two Republican debates. However, as former DNC spokesperson Mo Elleithee noted, “total number of viewers is important, but even more important from [the DNC’s] perspective in the percentage of viewers who go on to vote in a Democratic primary…you want them to create excitement among Democrats to get involved.” CNN also hired Sheryl Crow to sing the national anthem, and would be moderated by well-loved anchor Anderson Cooper, the unpredictable Don Lemon, perseverant Dana Bash, and Juan Carlos Lopez of CNN Español, who was most likely there as a dig at Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant stance.
“John Podesta,” chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, sent a fundraising email out that read in part, “Hillary’s ready to make her case to millions of viewers. But she needs her team to step up and show the world how strong this campaign is,” and asked for a $1 donation.
On October 13th, the day of the debate, NPR’s Jessica Taylor wrote a piece in which she offered advice as to how each candidate should portray themselves. Hillary Clinton had to reverse the “bruised” image that she was nursing. To do this, Ms. Taylor’s advice was simple “appear likeable and straightforward” and all while avoiding “complicated explanations and defensiveness.” For Bernie Sanders, she advised for him to show that he can “branch out beyond his core economic message” all while “avoiding testiness.” For Martin O’Malley, she advised that she should show that he deserves consideration while avoiding “debating about debates and getting on a high horse.” Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee needed a “breakout moment” and had to assert their presence if they had any hope of getting back into the race.
The GOP National Committee wrote a memo written to “interested parties” on their website. It contended that “anything shy of a homerun performance is unacceptable.” This was because, if Clinton were to flounder, Vice President Biden would almost certainly get in the race. The memo itself was written with a sarcastic tone, contending that Hillary’s opponents would “reinforce why their party hasn’t already deserted her over her seeming lack of conviction and and long history of scandal.” Bernie Sanders was described as a “73-year-old socialist who is surging in the polls.” Martin O’Malley was referred to as a “failed former governor of Maryland whose signature accomplishment was taxing rain,” and, further, “couldn’t get noticed in an empty room. Lincoln Chafee was sarcastically characterized as a “failed former governor of Rhode Island whose signature issue is converting America to the metric system.” Jim Webb’s reference was the worst as he was described him as “a one-term Senator from Virginia who is rumored to still be running for president.” In short, her opponents paled in comparison to her storied history.
Politico ran a story by Gabriel Debenedetti about “what a win looks like” for each candidate. Hillary Clinton simply had to remind voters that she stood the best chance of being elected. Bernie Sanders had to make a positive first impression. Martin O’Malley simply had to “get noticed.” Vice President Joe Biden (D-DE) ,who most likely would not attend the debate, simply had to have Clinton stumble to be able to get into the race. Finally, the punch-lines of the debate, Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee, had to fully explain “what they’re doing running for president without really campaigning.”
At 6:43 AM, Donald Trump tweeted that even though he expected the debate to consist of a “very boring two hours,” he would be live-tweeting the Democratic Debate. Hillary Clinton’s response tweet was “@realDonaldTrump Glad you’ll be watching. It’s going to be ‘huge,’” an obvious jab at one of Trump’s signature phrases.
At 12:50 PM, “Hillary Clinton,” in the first of several email fundraising blasts for the day, asked for a $1 donation to “have my back” and “make all of our futures brighter.” She wanted her donors to show the TV audience “just how strong we are.” In general, Hillary’s campaign forgot two key factors for this debate, which is a) too -many- emails turns your audience and email readers off, and b) money does not always signify loyalty. These two mistakes would come back to haunt her and her campaign in the later phases of the Presidential elections.
At 1:13 PM, NBC News ran a piece declared the debate to be “Martin O’Malley’s big chance.” Written by Leigh Ann Caldwell and of the same name, the article noted that this would be the time to make “significant inroads” for his chances and make his case to the Democratic voters. At the time, O’Malley was polling at only 4% in his own home state of Maryland, trailing Clinton by 36 points and Sanders by 16 points. Even his own campaign spokesperson, Haley Morris, downplayed expectations, stating, “this is a fight that’s just getting started,” and noted that this would be the first of several opportunities to “make our case” as it got closer to the Iowa primary, which was in three months. Martin O’Malley was running as a progressive, as was Sanders, but with one key difference, that he could get his agenda passed and effect changes. Sanders, O’Malley noted, was part of the ineffective Congress and had not gotten most of his agenda passed into legislation.
At 1:33 PM, just hours before the first debate, it was confirmed that Joe Biden would, in fact, not be showing up to the debate. CNN, which had prepared a spare lectern in case he did decide to run, was most likely disappointed. Biden’s spokesperson confirmed that the Vice President would watch the debate on TV from the Naval Observatory (the vice president’s residence) after attending a meeting at the White House with Attorney General Loretta Lynch and hosting a high school reunion at his home in Delaware.
At 2:36 PM, about six and a half hours before the first debate, NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell wrote a piece entitled, “In Debate, Candidates Try to Find Differences.” In the article, Ms Caldwell believed that Trade, Syria, Economic Inequality, the Keystone XL Pipeline, Iraq, and Gun Control would be key issues of difference between the candidates Martin O’Malley, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders.
At 4:30 PM, Johnny McNulty of Someecards.com wrote a piece entitled “how not to die of you’re playing a #DemDebate drinking game tonight.” Among the pointers were, “if your drinking game involves consuming alcohol any time the Democrats laugh at what a nuthouse the #GOPDebates are, just go to bed,” and “many plan on drinking every time they learn something new about Lincoln Chafee or Jim Webb. Please don’t do this. You have a family that loves you. They would miss you.” Other one-liners included, “chug some apple juice every time Hillary mentions being a grandmother. It’s sweet, but after the eighth time it’s just cloying,” sip, don’t chug every time Bernie Sanders patiently explains his definition of ‘Democratic Socialist’ to a room and country full of people who stopped listening,” and “take 10 shots when Hillary Clinton finally makes the career-ending political error Republicans and Democratic rivals have been waiting 20 years for. Have fun staying sober, suckers.” The tongue-in-cheek article, written by a Lincoln Chafee supporter no less, almost perfectly describes how the debate actually went as we’ll see below.
At 6:19 PM, two hours and eleven minutes before the debate, “Hillary Clinton” sent an email to her supporters, asking for $1 to become a “Debate Donor.” As the email reminded her supporters, “It’s not about the money. It’s about knowing that when I step on that stage, you’ll be behind me. It means so much to know that you’re fighting for me just like I’ll fight for you and your family every single day I’m in office.” This was one of her less awkwardly-worded emails thus far.
At 8:14 PM, sixteen minutes before the debate, CNN Breaking News had Trump’s promise to live tweet the debate as being a possible “unwelcome distraction,” and Bernie Sanders promising to “address the ‘collapse of the American middle class.’”
At 8:39 PM, Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo began to live blog the debate. “Here we are,” he said, “at another CNN debate where the start and end times are kept secret.” At 8:57, he wrote, “Staff here says Fox did better by going straight to questions. Agree it makes better TV, But I think giving each candidate a chance to make their case is better on the merits.” At 9:01, he wrote, “Hillary is benefiting by how stupid Anderson Cooper’s are. Good lord. He’s like the perfect foil.” Mr. Marshall was not amused.
That day, at 9 PM from the Wynn Las Vegas Hotel and Casino, the candidates squared off. The front-runner, Hillary Clinton, was situated at the center of the stage; Sanders to the right of her; Jim Webb to the right of Sanders. To Clinton’s left was Martin O’Malley; to O’Malley’s left was Lincoln Chafee. All five candidates averaged at least 1% in three key polls from August 1st to October 10th. With the stage finally set, the debate began. As they were introduced, Bernie Sanders drew the loudest applause, followed by Clinton and then Martin O’Malley.
Upon hearing their opening statements, Democratic primary voters knew there was a diverse field. Chafee had no scandals during his lifetime had had voted against the Bush tax cuts; Webb believed that “money has corrupted the political process” and stood for economic fairness and the G.I. Bill; O’Malley wanted to fix “economic injustice” and stood for marriage equality, gun control, and wanted the best school for his children; Sanders wanted to combat climate change and fight back against Citizens United; finally, Clinton wanted to give more money to education and jobs while making sure that the opportunity she and her husband has “is available” for all.
The first question, directed at Clinton, was about whether she changed her viewpoints based on political ambitions. She said she stood for a “range of views rooted in values and experience,” and later added that she was a “progressive who gets things done.”
Sanders’ first question was, “how does a socialist win?” He responded that the “top 1% earning as much as the bottom 90% is immoral” and stated that he needed a high voter turnout to win, and finally said that he was against “casino capitalism.” Mrs. Clinton was quick to point out that capitalism meant small business as well on rebuttal, and later added that she wanted to “save capitalism from itself.”
Lincoln Chafee, when asked why he was no longer a Republican, said that he was a “block of granite on the issues,” and said he switched parties because “the party left me.”
Martin O’Malley was asked about his zero tolerance policy when he was mayor. He responded that his policies as Mayor of Baltimore “saved thousands of lives,” and that the large volume of arrests that this policy caused, declined after 2003.
Jim Webb was asked if affirmative action discriminates against whites. He said that it detracts from the issues that white people have. When asked if he was a true Democrat, Mr. Webb responded that he was “where the Democratic Party is traditionally.” One had to wonder how far back “traditionally” went.
The next few questions centered around gun control. Here, Sanders and Clinton had a sharp divide. Sanders believed that expansive gun control could not be done in rural areas as citizens living there had a right to defend themselves, while Clinton (and O’Malley) claimed that hunting traditions could be preserved. “You are surely mistaken,” Sanders said to both Clinton and O’Malley. Jim Webb chimed in that he was for both background checks and defense rights, while Lincoln Chafee blasted the NRA for their “manipulative” political tactics.
At 9:10 PM, only a mere 1 hour and 10 minutes into the debate, Lindsey Graham tweeted, “Can’t take it any longer. Wouldn’t make Gitmo detainees watch all of this. Good luck @TheDemocrats, you’re going to need it. #DemDebate.” One witty commenter posted later, “Should probably clarify. When they’re talking about the 1%, they don’t mean your poll numbers.”
At 9:27 PM, CNN sent out another breaking news alert, which said that Clinton had “rejected accusations of political expediency,” saying that she was a “progressive who likes to get things done.” Bernie Sanders also got a mention for “defending his Democratic socialist views” by asserting he could win because he was not part of the “casino capitalist process.” The alert also described the exchange on gun control as “heated.”
As far as foreign policy, Clinton advocated for a no-fly zone in Syria and advocated “standing up to Putin’s bullying by taking more of a leadership position.” Bernie Sanders had to remind viewers of the number of times he voted for military force, lest he appear too pacifist. Martin O’Malley allied himself with the President, believing a no-fly zone in Syria was a bad idea. Jim Webb disagreed with the Iran deal. On one occasion, Lincoln Chafee was asked whether Clinton’s vote to invade Iraq disqualified her from being President. Chafee said that it was the “worst decision in American history,” so her poor judgment disqualified her. Hillary shot back, stating, “Obama valued my judgment so much that he made me Secretary of State.” On a similar question, Clinton pointed out that O’Malley endorsed her in 2008.
At 9:37 PM, either during or shortly after this exchange, “Bill Clinton” sent a fundraiser out to supporters, stating in part, “Hillary’s making her case for why she’s the most qualified candidate to be the Democratic nominee for president….we get to do the easy part–supporting her with everything we’ve got,” and asked for a $1 donation.
At 9:56 PM, candidates were asked what the “greatest foreign policy threat” to the United States was. Chafee named the Middle East; O’Malley named a nuclear Iran and climate change, Clinton named loose nuclear materials that wind up in the possession of terrorists, Sanders named climate change, and Webb named “cyber warfare, the Middle East, and China.”
On race relations, four of the five candidates answered that “Black Lives Matter” and that racial injustices had to be addressed. Jim Webb, the only differing voice, stated that “every life in this nation matters,” and added that he fought for criminal justice reform.
On income inequality, Sanders and Clinton disagreed over whose plan was tougher on Wall Street. Clinton said she gave a speech to Goldman-Sachs in which she asked big banks to “cut out” the practices that were going to lead to the recession; Sanders was all for breaking up the big banks. O’Malley wanted to reinstate Glass-Steagall. Lincoln Chafee later was asked about voting to repeal Glass-Steagall, and he responded that he voted for it not knowing what it was.
Another issue on display was Hillary Clinton’s gender. From making jokes about how it takes her a little longer to go to the bathroom, to shattering the glass ceiling, Clinton frequently used the fact she was a woman to her advantage. She reminded the audience twice that she would be the first-ever female President of the United States, noting once that her being a woman would be “quite a change” from President Obama, to how being a woman makes her an “outsider.” But none of the candidates fell into the political trap of her being a woman, unlike then-candidate Obama in 2008, who told Hillary she was “likeable enough,” nor like Rick Lazio (R-NY), whose insistence that Hillary Clinton sign a pledge on stage, even holding a paper copy of the pledge in her face, was seen as bullying and intimidation of a woman. Fortunately for Sanders, O’Malley, Webb, and Chafee, there were no such mishaps.
All candidates were in favor of opening up the Affordable Care Act to illegal immigrants and were in favor of free state college tuition. Sanders and Clinton wanted to tax the wealthy to pay for it.
At 10:15 PM, CNN released a breaking news alert that Bernie Sanders “came to the defense” of Hillary Clinton when he said, “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.”
At some point during the debate, Jim Webb devolved into whining about how he had not been given much time to speak, Martin O’Malley reduced himself to a single talking point (“100% green energy by 2050”), and Lincoln Chafee had to keep reminding the audience that his questionable votes did not make a difference as to whether a bill passed or not. Their concluding statements were pretty much the same as their opening statements.
Hillary Clinton’s answer to the last question of “what enemies are you the proudest that you’ve made” listed off names of countries and organizations she had made and ended with, “Republicans,” a remark that was sure to hurt her in the general election should she make it that far.
After the debate, at 11:44 PM, “Hillary Clinton” sent a message to her supporters saying, “I hope I made you proud tonight,” and again asked for a donation.
At 12:33 PM the following day, in a fundraising email, “Bill Clinton” wrote of his wife, “Last night, Hillary knocked it out of the park. She didn’t just talk about big ideas — she laid out plans to get them done…she imagines a country where women are paid the same as men, where families can stay together without fear of being separated, where health care and college degrees are affordable, and guns are harder to get your hands on…this is a grassroots movement, funded by people who are giving $1, $5, or whatever you can afford….saying, ‘I’m part of this campaign, and I believe in Hillary.’” If it’s not obvious to the reader by now, the Clinton campaign had turned the debate into an opportunity for their team to get money.
Next, it was on to the media reaction to the debate.
Think Progress wrote, “this is what a real debate looks like,” and spoke in nonspecific terms about the viewpoints of each of the candidates on guns, noting that one of the bills that were discussed was the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), which Sanders voted to pass, and Clinton did not. The article showed the wind range of topics that a debate on guns could take, from background checks to gun safety, and everywhere in-between. They were very excited that the debate was substantive.
On Hillary Clinton, CNN’s Jeremy Diamond declared her as the “winner,” stating that she “showed her mettle” and was “unflappable.” NPR’s Amita Kelly believed that Clinton’s line about being a “progressive who likes to get things done” was her best moment. In an article entitled, “Clinton Takes First Step to Dispel Doubts About Candidacy.” In the article of the same name, NPR’s Ron Elving writes that “Hillary may have gained the most.” Arguing that Clinton was there more or less to stop the bleeding than to make progress, he contends that “Hillary met this standard and far exceeded it.”
Politico’s Katie Glueck declared Mrs. Clinton’s performance to be a “runaway victory,” noting that 79% of Democrats believed she “dominated” her opponents. Politico’s “Off Message” columnist, Glenn Thrush, stated simply, “Hillary awakens!” Politico Columnist Shane Goldmacher ran an article called, “Clinton crushes it.” Goldmacher believed that the email scandal had been put to rest by Bernie Sanders (how wrong he was!)
The New York Times believed her performance reminded Democrats of how formidable a candidate she was in 2008, and further said she “sent a message to doubters” (the only problem being that Mrs. Clinton lost in 2008 to an up-and-coming start in the Democratic Party, Barack Obama) that she was no longer “tanking.”
The Economist’s Lexington believed that Hillary’s quote about how she is a “progressive who likes to get things done” was a good answer, as was the zinger, “we are not Denmark. I love Denmark. We are the United States of America” in response to Sanders saying, “I like Denmark.”
RealClearPolitics’ Alexis Simendinger wrote that her biggest success was how she defended he record and showed how she was able to “find common ground and stand her ground.” Josh Marshall, of the same organization, wrote that the moment where she said that President Obama valued her judgment “enough to make her Secretary of State” was her strongest moment.
Kelly believed that her biggest shortcoming was her acknowledgement that she never took a position on the Keystone XL Pipeline and that she also refused to take a position on legalizing marijuana. Mr. Thrush believed that her discussion on how to reform Wall Street, telling them to “cut it out,” was weak.
On Bernie Sanders, Diamond believed that he while he “checked boxes,” he likely didn’t inspire those in the demographics, such as African-Americans, that he was going after. Mr. Diamond also felt that electability was an issue.
Kelly believed that his “the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails” moment was his finest. Elving mentioned that the focus group liked Sanders the best. Glenn Thrush believed that the email moment transformed Sanders’ image from a “cranky, scolding uncle” to a “magnanimous mensch.”
James Taranto of The Wall Street Journal believed that the email moment was also his strongest moment, and that it sent a message that “if you vote for me, there will be no more email talk.” Goldmacher believed that Bernie had done “for Hillary what her own staff had not,” and put the email scandal to rest with his “damn emails” comment. Thrush believed that one of his strongest moments was when he said, “Congress doesn’t regulate Wall Street. Wall Street regulates Congress.”
Shaun King of DailyKos believed that the strongest moment that Sanders had was answering the question of, “Do All Lives Matter, or Do Black Lives Matter?” Mr. King described him as absolutely getting the question and substance of the matter and “meant what he said.” However, no sooner had Sanders answered the question than “candidates pivoted away from the real question soon after Bernie nailed his answer, so we didn’t really get a direct take from Hillary on this…it was disappointing that the only focus….was a philosophical question about the words, instead of the substance of what we are fighting for.” Mr. King, obviously a #BlackLivesMatter movement participant, believed that more time should have been spent on a question that was “bound to either piss off all of conservative America, or the passionate women and men behind the Black Lives Matter movement.”
On ABC’s The View, Joy Behar said she was “aroused” by Bernie Sanders and found him to be “eye candy,” and not “ear candy.”
Marshall believed his strongest point was the “clarity” of his attack on “rising plutocracy” by way of Citizens United.
Simendinger believed that Sanders’ “progressive agenda” appeared much more “thoughtful and genuine” than Clinton’s did. He also believed that Sanders exceeded the expectations of many establishment Democrats.
Kelly believed that his weakest shortcoming was calling Syria a “quagmire within a quagmire” and saying that Putin would “regret” intervening in Crimea, Ukraine, and Syria. An Iowa Republican said that he never should have been “sticking up” for Clinton on her emails. In a poll by Politico’s Katie Glueck, 20% of Democrats said he lost, with only 8% saying he won (tied with Martin O’Malley). Mr. Thrush believed that his response to a question on gun control was weak, calling the issues involved “large and complicated.”
Doug Powers believed that the email comment, contrary to what the aforementioned journalists believed, amounted to nothing more than a “sure I’ll be your running mate” gesture. His opinion is further bolstered by Hillary’s “cackle” after he said that.
Lexington believed that Sanders’ response as to how he would work with Republicans (he called them “terrible, terrible obstructionists”) and his response on rural gun laws were his weakest responses.
On Martin O’Malley, Mr. Diamond believed that he did not have a “breakout moment” and “came up empty,” though he did show that he was ready to go at it with Sanders, the politician who undercut O’Malley’s bid to be a “progressive alternative” to Clinton.
NPR’s Amita Kelly believed that his strongest moment was telling the story of a family from Colorado whose daughter was killed and then sued the gun companies — only to be ordered, themselves, to pay a fine. Ron Elving said that he had “moments of connection with the crowd,” especially over climate change and also agreed that the story he told about parents who lost their child in the Aurora, Colorado theatre shooting was a positive.
Michelle Collins, of ABC’s The View, stated of O’Malley, “if I wasn’t voting with my head, I think we know who would be getting my vote. I am in love. Look at his abs. That’s no dad bod…those are rock hard man things.”
Simendinger believed that O’Malley simply “appearing in the national spotlight” definitely improved his standing. However, he noted that he “may not be able to persuade enough Democrats that he…is the better candidate to defeat the eventual GOP nominee.”
CrooksandLiars’ author known simply as “Heather” wrote that O’Malley’s closing statement was the strongest performance of his night. The statement read in part, “what you heard [tonight] as an honest search for the answers that will move our country forward, to move us to a 100 percent clean electric energy grid by 2050….I truly believe that we are standing on the threshold of a new american [sic] progress, unless [sic] you become discouraged about our gridlock in Congress, talk to our people under 30. You’ll never find among them people who want to bash immigrants, people who want to deny rights to gay couples. That tells me we are moving to a more connected, generous, compassionate place, and we need to speak to the goodness within our country.”
Kelly believed that O’Malley’s weakest moments were when he talked about the debate itself, saying at one point, “look how glad we are actually to be talking about the issues that matter most.” Mr. Thrush believed that O’Malley was simply “the odd man out” and did nothing to revive his campaign. Taranto believed that Clinton completely shut O’Malley down when she reminded him that the governor himself had endorsed her in 2008. Goldmacher said simply of O’Malley that he “registered few memorable moments.”
On Jim Webb, Mr. Diamond believed that there was no more room for him. Webb stumbled on naming his five daughters, appeared to make up his positions “on the spot,” and whined about the time he was given.
Ms. Kelly believed his viewpoints on the Middle East, in specific Libya, Iraq, as well as naming China “the greatest strategic threat right now” were his most impressive. Mr. Thrush liked that Jim Webb named the enemy soldier that wounded him as the “enemy he was proudest to have made.”
Kelly believed that Jim Webb’s weakest moment was naming the enemy soldier that injured and then implying that that soldier was now dead, was his weakest moment. Mr. Elving panned Webb’s entire performance. A New Hampshire Democrat stated that he “had no business being up there.” Goldmacher said that Webb will be remembered for how he “complained repeatedly about getting a chance to speak.”
On Lincoln Chafee, Mr. Diamond believed that his definitive answer was that he was proud not to have any scandals while in office, but was dismayed that Chafee did not directly confront Hillary over the email scandals. He also felt Chafee’s excuse for voting for the repeal of Glass-Steagal and voting for the PATRIOT Act, that he had “just arrived in the Senate,” was truly “head-scratching” response.
Ms. Kelly believed that his strongest moment was when he said he was proud to have no scandals in his history of service.admitting that he voted for certain laws not knowing what they were (including the repeal of Glass-Steagall) was his weakest moment.
Elving panned Chafee’s entire performance. A New Hampshire Republican stated “that if anyone needed further evidence of his utter irrelevance, they saw it tonight.” Mr. Thrush believed that this was the only time Chafee had to “make some noise,” and that it backfired horrifically. Goldmacher simply said of Chafee that he “mostly faded into the background.”
Most experts and pundits believed that Hillary Clinton’s strong performance had closed the door on Vice President Joe Biden’s run.
ThinkProgress ran the viewership numbers and found that 15.3 million, almost twice the average viewership of the Obama v. Hillary debates in 2008, watched the debate. While this paled in comparison to the 23 million viewers who watched Donald Trump and the Republicans in September, it soundly beat the GOP’s debate numbers in 2012 by nearly 8 million viewers, and Politico noted that it beat the highest viewership for a Democrat debate, the prior record of which was 10.7 million in 2008. It was also the sixth most watched event next to cable sports events. These ratings were also the highest in Democratic debate history.
Republicans, of course, had to sound off on the debate as well. A day later, on “Fox & Friends,” Marco Rubio (R-FL) described the debate as a “liberal versus liberal debate about who was going to give away the most free stuff,” and concluded his interview by saying, “I think the biggest threat to her [Hillary Clinton] candidacy is her outdated ideas.”
Michelle Malkin’s conservative blog stated that “the irony of watching some of the candidates take shots at capitalism while Steve Wynn [the owner of the casino the Democrats debated in] was a couple of floors down in the count room rolling around in a tub of $100 bills was pretty damn funny. Hillary even offered to save capitalism from itself by volunteering to stand watch over all the money — she’s so selfless!”
Michelle Malkin’s own Doug Powers had something different to say, stating that Clinton’s opinions on climate change amounted to nothing more than not letting a “made-up crisis go to waste” when she said to take the “opportunity posed by climate change to grow our economy.”
Donald Trump live tweeted the debates. Amongst his tweets were “O’Malley, as former Mayor of Baltimore, has very little chance,” “Can anyone imagine Chafee as President? No way,” and “Sorry there is no STAR on the stage tonight.”
The National Review Online’s Charles C. W. Cooke suggested that Hillary’s line about how Republicans were the enemies she was the “proudest to have made” was a “mistake.” Cooke’s article contended that, while that line played well in the primaries, on the national stage, she had just opened herself up to a new line of attack. Parties can have their differences, Cooke argued, but they certainly should not be enemies, especially not if one is going to be President with potentially both the House of Representatives and the Senate being run by “enemies” who happen to be the majority party in those houses of Congress.
Then, there were the reactions of the voters themselves. A focus group of 39 undecided Iowan Democratic primary voters, twenty women, nineteen men, were given dials so that Park Street Matters, a public opinion firm, could gauge their reaction. Sanders was viewed as the winner of the debate, but 11 voters moved towards Clinton and only 9 towards Sanders. The defining moment of the debate was the “damn emails” moment. Voters viewed Sanders as unelectable, while Clinton was viewed as being ready for the presidency, but many voters agreed that Clinton’s message lacked clarity. More men liked Sanders than women, and more women liked Clinton than Sanders. O’Malley missed his moment and Webb and Chafee barely registered. There was a positive reaction to a Joe Biden (D-DE) ad during the debate. Clinton had 3 low moments – her stances on TPP, Iraq, and big banks – while Sanders only had two, which were his messages on the VA scandal and on gun legislation. Meanwhile, Sanders had three high moments – the “damn emails” moment, standing up to big backs, and his stance on wars – while Clinton only had two: Planned Parenthood and paid family leave as well as standing up to the NRA. Thus, while Clinton had more weaker moments, she was still judged by the focus group as being the strongest candidate.
Another focus group of 28 undecided Florida Democratic primary voters said that Sanders was the winner overall. They loved Sanders’ comment on Clinton’s emails, understood that Bernie was arguing for “equality of opportunity” vs. “equality of income,” and thought his intent was absolutely correct. However, they loved Clinton’s ability to “get things done.” Democratic voters in Florida also looked to the future instead of talking about the past. Martin O’Malley got a decent reaction from the focus group. However, the group was completely turned off by both Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee.
The debate was also not without its fallout. While the debate was referred to as much more civil than the Republicans’ two debates, there were also problems in the aftermath. The White House spokesperson, of all people, unwittingly stated that the debate was a “keen reminder you can run on things other than appealing people’s fears and anxieties.” Michelle Malkin’s blog was quick to jump on that. As Doug Powers, a columnist writing for Ms. Malkin’s blog, stated, the debate wouldn’t have preyed on people’s fears, except for the parts about “unless we spend trillions more on ‘clean energy’ shams, the effects of climate change will mean people in Cincinnati might soon have beachfront property. They also hinted that Wall Street bankers are going to force the middle class to clean their septic tanks and Republican president would mean women will have to work for sweatshop wages and anybody who hasn’t been in the country at least 75 years would be put on a rocket and sent to Jupiter.” He concludes the piece, stating that “the [White House] is actually living on another planet. Let’s leave him be.”
Also, despite the debate, which featured racial issues and women’s issues, the New York Times’ “roundup” piece, which contained a sampling of bloggers from around the Internet, featured only 11, referred to as “white male pundits,” and no women or minorities. On October 15th, their chief politics editor acknowledged the poor sampling and made it a point to say that it would not happen again.
Jim Webb, despite all of his complaining about his speaking time, was actually allowed to speak for quite a bit. In fact, he was given more speaking time than Ben Carson and Chris Christie were able to have, combined. In fact, if anyone should have complained about speaking time, it should have been Lincoln Chafee. He spoke less than anyone in either the first Democratic or the the second Republican debate, with the exception of fading Republican superstar Scott Walker.
Speaking of Jim Webb, he withdrew from the race exactly one week after the debate had concluded. The next article will be a double feature with the withdrawal of Jim Webb and the sentencing of Dennis Hastert to jail.