Bernie Sanders's Opening Pivoted From ISIS To Economics, And That's No Surprise

Saturday saw the second Democratic presidential debate take place at Iowa's Drake University, and early in the night, viewers caught a glimpse of what could've been a prevailing theme: Bernie Sanders pivoted from ISIS to economics during his opening statement, making it clear precisely what kind of conversation the Vermont senator would've preferred to be having.

It's no surprise and no secret that if Sanders had his way, each and every debate would probably be non-stop economic justice. It's undeniably the single policy area that gives him the most momentum, rhetorical flair, and verve, and it's an area where he can draw a bright red line between himself and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who's awash in big donor campaign funds and establishment endorsements.

But after the Paris attacks just one night before, CBS News made the decision to front-load questions relating to ISIS, terrorism, and the Middle East, meaning that Sanders was thrown a big curveball: figure out how to argue foreign policy against Clinton, at the very top of the debate, on just a day's notice. And to begin with, at the very least, he decided to remind everyone why he was really running, and the message he really wanted to send, as the Washington Post noted.

Together leading the world this country will rid our planet of this barbarous organization called ISIS. I'm running for president because as I go around this nation I talk to a lot of people and what I hear is people's concerns that the economy we have is a rigged economy.
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

What was perhaps most interesting about his quick-pivot was that he didn't shy away from foreign policy and ISIS in his subsequent remarks — he actually made some unusually pointed, strong criticisms of Clinton, highlighting her vote to authorize the Iraq war, which Sanders argued created the conditions that gave rise to ISIS. He also pledged to keep America's obligations to its veterans, citing the thousands of soldiers who return home suffering from grievous physical harm and mental health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder.

In a way, it felt like it was a slightly defiant gesture on Sanders' part — to not entirely allow the direct questioning on ISIS to interfere with his usual opening statement, but to still make it clear that he can talk the talk as regards to international affairs if he wants to. It's something he'd do well to do more often, frankly — he actually scored some solid rhetorical blows on Clinton here, and it's a policy area he rarely prioritizes.