Democratic Debate: Recap


In last night’s presidential debate, democratic candidates took the stage for the first time this election season. On a stage set fittingly like a game show, frontrunners Bernie Sanders and Hillary argued over who could promise more free stuff, Martin O’Malley fielded questions over the unrest in his state, and Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb tried to remind voters that they exist. The democratic field is a third the size of the GOP’s, creating a debate a third as long (although, as Chafee reminded us, it did last “tens of minutes”) and with a third as many shouting matches (possibly due to the lack of Christies and Trumps on stage). Also unlike the republican debates, no Fiorinas claimed a spot with the frontrunners; Clinton and Sanders went into tonight leading the pack, and that’s unlikely to change.

An individual breakdown:

Lincoln Chafee - People complain that Clinton is too unrelatable and intimidating, so Chafee clearly took that as an instruction to spend the whole night smiling. Looking like Miss America espousing the value of World Peace, the former Rhode Island governor took shots at Clinton by pointing out that he’s never been involved in a scandal and reminding the audience that, unlike his rival, he voted against the Iraq War. While there were no breakout moments for Chafee, he solidly framed the importance of Clinton’s email scandal, telling the audience her server matters because credibility matters when electing a president.

Hillary Clinton - Hillary wants us to know that she’s a woman. When moderator Anderson Cooper asked how a Clinton presidency would be different than a third Obama presidency, Clinton responded that the main difference would be her gender; when asked if an increasingly anti-establishment electorate would elect a political insider, the former Secretary of State claimed that being a woman made her an outsider. Clinton appeared knowledgeable, confident, and experienced, per usual, but her flaws showed clearly. Cooper reminded Clinton of her sudden change in stance on gay marriage, immigration, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and Clinton told him she “absorb[s] new information” and “looks at what’s happening in the world.”

Martin O’Malley - Sadly, O’Malley did not bring his guitar to the debate, but he did turn in a solid performance. In the night’s biggest surprise, the former Maryland governor held his own with Clinton and Sanders, going after the NRA and detailing his efforts to pass gun control laws in Maryland. Gun control is more important now than ever in the wake of the Oregon shootings, and O’Malley’s ‘F’ ranking from the NRA will stand out to advocates of stricter laws. However, O’Malley lost ground when the debate turned to his failure to remedy the unrest in Baltimore.

Bernie Sanders - Feeling the Bern yet? Within two hours of the debate’s end, ‘Bernie Sanders’ was the second-most trending topic on twitter (the first being ‘#demdebate’) and had gained over 35,000 followers. Even for an American flag-toting conservative like me, it was easy to understand the hype. He talked about the Pope, quoted the Godfather, and addressed the public’s very real concerns over another “quagmire” in the Middle East. In the night’s most quotable moment, Sen. Sanders interrupted a conversation about Clinton’s email scandal, interjecting, “the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your d*** emails. … Let’s talk about the real issues facing America.” Also, Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders make strange bedfellows, but both want to shut down the NSA, so Sanders could find new fans in the libertarian market.

Jim Webb - Jim Webb participated in the same debate as Hillary Clinton, Dude, Where’s My Car? was released the same year as Cast Away, and that’s really the most that can be said. When Webb talked (and for much of the debate, it appeared he was borrowing former GOP candidate Scott Walker’s tactic and napping under the podium), he was stuttering, irritated, and rambling about how China presents the greatest threat to the United States. In Webb’s defense, he did offer a moderate stance; some liberals find a stage crowded with progressives and self-proclaimed socialists disconcerting, and should they not want to cross party borders for a Kasich-style Republican, Webb could be very appealing.

Overall though, Anderson Cooper was the night’s clear winner. He took no prisoners in rapid-fire questions that exposed each candidate's policy holes and refused to engage in bickering matches. West/Cooper 2020?

Photo Credit: The Atlantic