7 Dominant Hillary Clinton Debate Moments That Took Center Stage


The presidential debates are upon us and they have many politically aware, impassioned people all over the country wondering what on Earth is going to happen. The two candidates are so different, both in terms of style and substance. But this much is undeniable: The Democrat in this race has a lot more experience on the stage than the Republican does, and she's flashed some considerable mettle in the past. And if you're looking for an example, here are seven of Hillary Clinton's most dominant debate moments, which could give a glimpse into her performances at the presidential debates this year.

There are a lot of different ways to "win" a political debate, and throughout her political career Clinton has won a lot of them. Whether fiercely arguing her points, exploiting an opponent's overreach, appearing above-the-fray, or getting down and dirty, it's all about the timing, the issues at hand, maybe a dash of humor, and how much confidence and composure you can exude in a very pressure-packed situation.

Of course, it doesn't hurt to have the facts on your side either. But even in the places where a given candidate might be vulnerable, they have to figure out how to navigate the choppy waters. In other words, you don't always have to agree with a candidate's point or believe they're being entirely factual to acknowledge they got one over on their opponent ... though it's better that way, obviously.

Here are some of Clinton's most memorable and crafty debate moments.

1. Letting Rick Lazio Score A Devastating Own-Goal

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If you're a longtime Clinton supporter or simply a debate junkie, there's a great chance you've seen this one before. In 2000, fresh off her eight years as First Lady, Clinton decided to run for the U.S. Senate seat in New York, a race she was initially meant to run against former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani. He ultimately had to drop out due to prostate cancer, and it was Rick Lazio who took his place.

Lazio handed Clinton perhaps the most memorable moment in her early debate career, when he abandoned his podium and strode over to her in the middle of the debate to aggressively insist she sign a pledge against the use of soft money. Lazio's gruff intrusion into Clinton's space on the debate stage did him no favors, and it's regularly cited as one of the worst unforced errors in recent memory. Clinton, for her part, perfected one of the most important debate skills in this moment ― not interrupting your opponent while they're making a terrible mistake.

2. Diffusing Tim Russert's Gotcha Moment

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When the late Tim Russert asked Clinton to respond to a Meet The Press guest's argument about the potential necessity of torturing terrorists during a 2007 primary debate, asking whether the president should have an exception to order such torture, she said no. To the contrary, she insisted that torture must not be permissible as a matter of policy, and she warned of the "great big hole" such an exception would open in what presidents might consider appropriate.

Russert then sprung the trap, revealing that the person he was quoting was, in fact, Bill Clinton. "So he disagrees with you," Russert said, with a mild smirk playing on his lips. Clinton's response to this gotcha moment was, quite frankly, pitch-perfect: "Well, he's not standing here right now."

3. Setting Up Obama For His "Likable Enough" Gaffe

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This infamous moment during her 2008 primary debates is a prime example. Then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama was riding high after his win in the Iowa caucuses, and had a polling edge in New Hampshire when he made this crack, which was viewed as sexist by many critics: "You're likable enough, Hillary." It was made all the worse by the fact that the quip seemed a little tight and antagonistic, while Clinton (who was asked to address the fact that people liked Obama more) seemed light, friendly, and amused by the whole thing.

4. Dispatching Lincoln Chafee With Just One Word

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This is probably the best, most devastating punch Clinton threw during the 2016 presidential primaries, even though it was pretty much the definition of punching down. During the first Democratic primary debate, when the field was still thick with candidates, Chafee tried to score some points by raising Clinton's private email server controversy, arguing that she didn't have sufficient "ethical standards" to be president. When moderator Anderson Cooper asked Clinton if she wanted to respond to the former Rhode Island governor and metric system champion, she declined with an almost dry, flat sarcasm: "No."

5. Pressing Bernie Sanders On Racial Justice ...

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This isn't the kind of debate moment that leaps off the screen as a decisive victory, but in terms of the message she was sending to black voters in her base ― and the fact that Sanders basically argued black voters would like him more if they knew more about him, tacitly placing the blame on them rather than his own outreach efforts ― it was a strong strategic play.

6. ... And On Guns

Sanders' record on gun control became a central point of contention in the Democratic primary, owing to his backing of a bill shielding gun manufacturers from lawsuits relating to the use of their weapons. And in terms of making an emotional appeal to the viewing audience, Clinton was probably never so forceful as she was in challenging Sanders' relationship to the gun industry.

This is actually an example of strong improvisational thinking from Clinton, because she had no way to know Sanders would chuckle when she began her answer. But when he did, she pounced on it as a show of disrespect, saying "it's not a laughing matter."

7. Confronting Her Own Wall Street Contributions

Clinton came up with a response to Sanders' attacks on her Wall Street ties that was pretty effective: She challenged him to either identify an area where she'd actually been influenced to change her mind or her support for a policy by campaign cash, or to end his "artful smear." Sanders either wasn't able to do that, or he didn't want to, and that crucially weakened one of his strongest arguments against her.

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In short, Clinton is a very underrated debater, especially considering the double-standards she labors under. It's no secret that women aspiring to get elected to the toughest, most powerful jobs in the country have to walk a far narrower line in terms of how they look, act, and speak than their male counterparts do, regardless of how irritating and discouraging that may be.

And despite it all, she's managed to assemble a very strong track record throughout her debate career. In other words, Trump better be careful ― if he thinks he's matched up against a pushover, he could be in for a nasty surprise.