The first Democratic Debate just ended, and the Democratic field will likely stay just as it was before the debate. We didn’t learn much new about the candidates and everyone performed pretty much as they were expected to perform. But what does that all mean?
Most notable was how ferocious Anderson Cooper was as a moderator. His first questions to each of the candidates was one aimed at their most significant weaknesses. He asked Sanders to explain how a self-proclaimed socialist would get elected. He asked Hillary Clinton if she would “say anything to get elected” for her recent evolution on major issues like the TPP. He asked Lincoln Chaffee about his past as a part of other parties, calling him a “soft block of granite” after he said he was like a rock on his ideological principles.
There were some testy moments, though none perhaps more so than when Martin O’Malley attacked Bernie Sanders from the left on guns. He criticized Sanders’s position on guns, with respect to his home state of Vermont. Sanders did not handle it well, but O’Malley talking about success on guns in Maryland (read: Baltimore) is disingenuous at best.
There were also some party unity moments, specifically when Sanders gave the answer on the Hillary Clinton e-mail scandal that the candidate herself never could. After Clinton gave a pretty solid answer about her e-mail trouble and testifying before the Congressional committee, Sanders spoke up in her defense. “Let me say something that may not be great politics…the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn e-mails.” It brought many in the crowd, including Jesse Jackson, to their feet in applause.
While we’ll get into the specifics of the debate and notable policy statements later this week, the overall scope of it was that it was full of passive aggressive digs from one candidate to another, but still positively delightful compared to the Trump-led GOP melee. There were no real breakout moments that served the three candidates at the bottom of the polls, Lincoln Chafee, Martin O’Malley, and Jim Webb.
Hillary Clinton only had ground to lose, but she performed almost flawlessly. While she may not have switched many Bernie voters to her side, she may have softened their opinion of her. That’s all she needed to do, because there are five more debates during which she can win them over. Sanders had a really strong audition for Vice President tonight. He’s not going anywhere, and if he has a strong enough showing in the primaries she may have no choice but to at least offer him a spot on the ticket.
Many of the immediate-aftermath cable news focus groups on Fox News and CNN showed that voters who were torn between the two candidates loved the idea of both of them being on the ticket. Since the Democrats have an electoral advantage come November (barring something really unforeseen), Clinton/Sanders might be a surefire way to put forward their most electable candidate while still giving something for the progressive base to get fired up about.
Still, it’s very early in the process and all of this is subject to change after one brain fart on the campaign trail. What do you think? Share your reactions in the comments below.