Hillary Clinton & Bernie Sanders Start The Democratic Debate With Way More Bite Than Anyone Expected

Thursday night brings the fifth Democratic presidential debate to living rooms all across America, and just like you might have expected, it's been little more confrontational this time around ― things got tense between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton from the very first moment of their first head-to-head showdown, with each candidate rhetorically sniping at the other.

It was probably a certainty that you'd see a debate like this, now that it's just down to Sanders and Clinton. Former Maryland governor and long-shot challenger Martin O'Malley's presence on the debate stage didn't have much impact on the outcome of the past showdowns, but he did prevent the two from really going at one another.

Thursday, however, is shaping up to be something else altogether. Within the first 30 minutes of the debate, Sanders and Clinton traded barbs on who's more progressive, what makes somebody a progressive, Super PACs, and whether or not Clinton embodies the establishment. The shift in tone was apparent from the very beginning, but as it has gone along, it has quickly turned into the most fiery, aggressive, and forceful of the five debates so far, and arguably more seriously and trenchantly confrontational than anything on the Republican side.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Here are a few of the white-hot lines flying between Sanders and Clinton:

  • Sanders, when Clinton attempted to rebuke his criticisms of her speaking fees and the implication that she might be influenced by them, responded with a line he's used before: "I'm very proud to be the only candidate up here who does not have a Super PAC." The delivery was rather savage, though, and it elicited some raucous approval from the assembled audience.
  • Sanders, when questioned by moderator Chuck Todd about how he'd accomplish his goals when his legislative accomplishments have been relatively thin, he came back with a line that seemed somewhat directed at Clinton: "I haven't quite run for president before."
  • Sanders leveled a very familiar, often very effective attack against Clinton, citing her as the chosen candidate of the Democratic establishment, with countless more governors, mayors, and representatives offering their endorsements. That led Clinton to use a line she's tried out before, albeit with more evident indignation that she has in the past: "Sen. Sanders, I think, is the only person who would characterize me, a woman running to be the first woman president, as exemplifying the establishment. I've got to tell you, it is really quite amusing to me."
  • And, in perhaps the testiest and most forceful exchange of the night, Clinton took Sanders to task for his recent statements questioning her progressive record.

I've heard Senator Sanders' comments, and it's really caused me to wonder, who's left in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party? Under his definition, President Obama is not progressive, because he took donations from Wall Street. Vice President Biden is not progressive because he supported Keystone. Sen. Shaheen is not progressive because she supports the trade pact. Even the late, great Senator Paul Wellstone would not fit this definition because he voted for DOMA.

You know, we have differences and honestly, I think we should talk about what we want to do for the country. But if we're going to get into labels, I don't think it was particularly progressive to vote against the Brady Bill five times. I don't think it was progressive to vote to give gun-makers and sellers immunity. I don't think it was progressive to vote against Ted Kennedy's immigration reform. So, we could go back and forth like this, but the fact is, most people watching tonight want to know what we've done and what we will do.

Suffice it to say, this debate has been everything that was promised and more, as far as fast-flying attacks, aggressive defenses, and cagey rhetorical dueling goes. It'll be for the people of New Hampshire to determine exactly what they thought of it ― although as the polls stand now, Sanders can probably breathe a little easier.