Throwing Down the Gauntlet: The Second Democratic Debate

Alex Sadler, JHU:

Desperate times called for desperate measures at the last Democratic debate. Saturday’s debate brought high pressure to Hillary’s challengers as they look to gain ground before the crucial December debate in New Hampshire. After the first debate, Clinton widened her lead over Bernie Sanders while Martin O’Malley continued his irrelevance. With this knowledge, it was clear going into Saturday’s debate that both Sanders and O’Malley had to attack Clinton hard if they were to make any big strides in the polls.

Sadly, the debate weekend started with tragic news. The day before the debate, news broke about the horrific shootings in Paris. Many pundits predicted that the Paris attacks would bring a fundamental shift in Saturday’s debate layout, heavily increasing the focus on ISIS and foreign policy. Saturday’s debate began with a moment of silence for all of those lost in the attacks but moderator John Dickerson did a good job of covering a variety of topics throughout the evening.

Mr. Sanders and Mr. O’Malley began the debate attacking Mrs. Clinton for her 2002 vote to send U.S. troops into Iraq and for her diplomatic failures during the first four years of the Obama administration. This was a clear message that the outsiders were not afraid to challenge Clinton on her previous mistakes. The former Secretary was not quick to back down as she responded by citing herself as the only candidate with foreign policy experience while also laying out a plan for a joint US/Middle Eastern coalition to fight ISIS together.

Attacks went back and forth as Clinton accused Senator Sanders of not recognizing Jordan’s work in the fight against ISIS as yet another way to assert her dominance in the Middle East. The foreign policy discussion was the liveliest but briefest part of the debate. Governor O’Malley weighed in on Syria by stating that the U.S. should take in 65,000 refugees (his successor, Larry Hogan, later released a statement saying that Maryland would not take any refugees), while Clinton agreed she wanted to make sure that the screening process should be as tough as possible.

Bernie Sanders continued his typical debate form by bringing up his hallmark zingers on the huge inequalities and wealth gap in the country , as he unapologetically advocated for a living minimum wage. Perhaps Sanders’s most notable attack on Clinton was when discussion shifted to Wall Street. Sanders criticized Clinton for receiving millions in donations from Wall Street and not having the average American’s best interests at heart. Clinton responded with what was probably the strangest defensive maneuver of the night in claiming that her work with helping Wall Street recover from 9/11 is what caused her to establish the strong relationships that she benefits from today. She also pointed out that the majority of her donations were small donations coming from women. Clinton did a good job of avoiding the difficult questions by referring back to her track record and experience.

Overall, the debate itself did not provide us with a major winner. If anything, it was a bit of a stalemate that benefitted Clinton. Sanders was strong, stuck to his normal talking points, and wasn’t afraid to attack Clinton for her misdoings in office. Overall, Maryland’s former governor had a good debate but continued to be seen as a distant third candidate who was given much less speaking time than the other candidates. As of now, it doesn’t seem like either candidate can stop the Hillary train that only seems to be picking up momentum as the former New York Senator locked down an important endorsement from SEIU, one of the most powerful unions in the country. Both Sanders and O’Malley need to make some serious changes to their campaigns if they want to posit a strong challenge to Clinton in next month’s New Hampshire debate.

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