The Brooklyn Democratic Debate Winner Made It Through One Seriously Intense Night
Thursday's debate was, without question, the rowdiest one the Democrats have had so far. The candidates and the audience spent the majority of the night hooting and hollering at each other, and Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders attacked each other far more aggressively than they have to this point. The winner of the Brooklyn Democratic debate was Hillary Clinton, who avoided taking any serious damage and, as a result, will probably win the New York primary on Tuesday.
This was an important and potentially pivotal debate. For one, it may be the last Democratic debate of the cycle, and thus the last opportunity both candidates have to draw contrasts with one another in front of a multi-million-viewer audience. It also comes less than a week before New York Democrats vote in the primary, and while Clinton leads the polls in New York, a stellar debate performance by Sanders could have gone a long way to reversing that.
But Sanders didn't turn in a stellar performance on Tuesday. He spent the majority of the debate aggressively attacking Clinton on, well, all the things he's been attacking her about on for a while: her ties to Wall Street, her support for the Iraq War, her lack of support for single-payer health care, and so on. He even questioned her judgement.
What he didn't do was focus on outlining his own vision for the future, and that was a strange choice. It's clear by now that Sanders' anti-plutocratic rhetoric, while sometimes repetitive, nonetheless inspires people on a mass scale. This is, in fact, the main reason his campaign has been as successful as it is. But at Thursday's debate, he shifted away from this tried-and-true tactic, and instead hit Clinton as hard as he could.
It does kind of make sense: Bernie wants to damage Hillary in hopes of pulling off an upset in the New York primary. But Sanders is far more effective as an advocate than an attack dog, and that was clear on Thursday, when a good amount of his attacks fell flat.
As usual, he criticized Clinton relentlessly for being too close to Wall Street. But when asked to name a single action she'd taken as a public official that had been impacted by her Wall Street ties, he couldn't — and she called him out for avoiding the question.
Later, Sanders pointed to Clinton's support for fracking abroad, as well as the donations she's taken from the fossil fuel industry, as proof that she's soft on climate change. Clinton responded pointing out that she, unlike Sanders, has actually helped enact policies to fight climate change, most notably during her work with President Obama at the 2009 climate change conference.
"It's easy to diagnose the problem. It's harder to do something about the problem," she said. "I don't take a back seat to your legislation that you've introduced that you haven't been able to get passed."
Earlier, when Bernie said that he questions Hillary's "judgement," she responded, cleverly, by pointing to Sanders' interview with the New York Daily News, which was heavily-criticized for lacking policy substance.
"Talk about judgment, and talk about the kinds of problems [Sanders] had answering questions about even his core issue: Breaking up the banks," Clinton said. "When asked, he could not explain how that would be done, and when asked about a number of foreign policy issues, he could not answer about Afghanistan, about Israel, about counterterrorism, except to say if he'd had some paper in front of him, maybe he could."
It's not as if Clinton had a flawless night. When asked why she won't release the transcripts of her Goldman-Sachs speeches, she still didn't have a good answer. She once again voiced support for a no-fly zone in Syria, putting her at odds with President Obama but in agreement with most Republicans running for president. At one point, she attempted to interrupt the moderators repeatedly and was booed by the audience.
Nevertheless, Clinton survived an onslaught of attacks by Sanders on Thursday. She demonstrated her command of policy details, which continues to be one of her greatest strengths as a candidate, and effectively depicted Sanders as a pie-in-the-sky candidate who talks a big game but hasn't, at the end of the day, effected very much change.
Clinton started the night as the favorite to win the New York primary, and nothing that happened during the debate changed that. She won the Brooklyn debate, and thanks to her existing lead in pledged delegates, she is still the heavy favorite to become the Democratic nominee.