If you watched Democratic Debate III, against the apparent wishes of the Democratic Party, you’re probably talking about two things: Hillary Clinton’s loo-ghazi (as it’s being called) bathroom break and, of course, Donald Trump.
One was funny, sort of, and the other was, in the words of the three Democratic debaters, a “fascist” billionaire with a big mouth (O’Malley), whose anti-Muslim rants make him “ISIS’s best recruiter” (Clinton) and who tells otherwise disaffected voters that “we’ve got to hate the Mexicans…we’ve got to hate the Muslims.” (Sanders)
If you’re about to say that some of that sounds over the top — like Clinton’s suggestion that ISIS is using Trump videos as a recruiting tool — you have to first ask yourself how you can possibly get more over the top than sky-scraping Trump. Last seen, he was doing his round of the Sunday morning news shows to insist, once again, that his nonexistent 9/11-celebrating Jersey City Muslims were real, but, far more strangely, also to defend his new best friend Vladimir Putin, saying there was no proof that Putin had killed journalists or anyone else.
If establishment Republicans weren’t already sick with worry about the Donald — and, of course, they are — the Democratic debate must have pushed them over the top.
Trump was the only Republican the Democrats mentioned — and with good reason. They’re thrilled for his face to be the face of the GOP. If Republicans insist on making him the pre-actual-votes-counted leader, why wouldn’t Democrats cheer them on?
It is time, after all, when we must consider the possibility that Trump could win the nomination, and Trump runs against the loser of a country that we’re stuck with, that only he can make, you know, great again.
That’s why Democrats are nearly as happy as Trump whenever the Donald is dominating the debate — whether it’s a GOP debate or a Democratic one.
The debate itself wasn’t bad, if that’s how you want to spend your Saturday night on the weekend before Christmas. No, it didn’t change the terms of the Democratic race, and it seemed, well, repetitive — Bernie full of passion, Hillary full of a wide range of facts. Clinton showed once again how good she is on a debate stage, and, strangely, Sanders wasted his lovable Bernie scowl by pulling his punches every time Clinton gave him an open shot. We’ve seen this show before.
As for Martin O’Malley, the Other Guy? His biggest moment came near the beginning of the debate when the data breach was addressed. Bernie apologized, Hillary accepted and the Other Guy chided them for fighting the way Washington people do, even though they weren’t actually fighting. No wonder the Dems can’t draw Trump-like ratings
There were clear, even fundamental (as Sanders put it) differences between the Sanders’ left wing of the party and Clinton, who is her own wing. First, on Syria and the Middle East: Sanders said that Clinton was “too much into regime change,” and though he wanted to destroy ISIS as much as the next candidate, he thought it made no sense to be fighting Bashar al-Assad at the same time. The money quote: “Yes, we could get rid of Saddam Hussein, but that destabilized the entire region. Yes, we could get rid of Qaddafi, a terrible dictator, but that created a vacuum for ISIS. Yes, we could get rid of Assad tomorrow, but that would create another political vacuum that would benefit ISIS.”
This should be a winning argument for war-weary Democrats who may love Bernie (who wouldn’t?), but, to vote for him, would have to believe he could somehow win the presidency. Clinton, meanwhile, defended her role in Libya, called for a “deconflicted” no-fly zone in Syria, and was generally pro-interventionist, clearly making her case for a general-election audience. Clinton, on one hand, has to take Sanders seriously – he leads her in New Hampshire and has a real chance to win Iowa — but she can’t afford to run only against Sanders.
On the economy, the most memorable non-Star Wars quote of the night came when Clinton was asked whether corporations should love her, and Clinton replied, “Everyone should.” It brought the house down. But Sanders countered that Wall Street won’t love him, and that’s all the difference you need to know. But, again, Sanders didn’t hit Clinton as a Wall Street candidate. Sanders may be the candidate for re-liberalized Democrats, but he basically let Clinton skip. He was the real liberal, and she was, apparently, liberal enough.
He said that liberal programs would cost money – and were well worth it. Clinton said that Sanders’ programs were too costly, and that only the rich would pay for hers. She promised she wouldn’t raise taxes for anyone making less than $250,000, and you have to wonder why no one questioned this now-somehow-accepted definition of middle class.
I’m not sure why Sanders pulled his punches. Is he a message candidate who doesn’t want to damage Clinton’s chances in the general election? Or is he caught knowing there’s no path to victory in a Democratic primary that includes slamming Clinton?
Of course, the more certain path for any Democrat is to embrace the gift that is the Donald. And what’s hardly debatable is that any easy shot Clinton’s challengers take at Trump is one slightly more complicated shot that they’re not taking at her.
Photo credit: Donkey Hotey, Creative Commons, Flickr.