2016 Democrats, Debates, Nevada, South Carolina, Uncategorized

Debate Recap: Hillary the Challenger Opens Pandora’s Box

February 11, 2016

Another debate is done.  Fewer fireworks than I expected.  Perhaps I’m jaded after Christie-Rubio, but it doesn’t seem like anything happened that will lead campaign coverage for the next several days.

That doesn’t mean it was a complete waste of two hours.  However, if you haven’t watched yet, you can probably fast forward a bit, or just catch the clips on YouTube.  Or, just read this recap.In the past 8 days, the two candidates have debated or town halled 3 times.  They don’t meet again until March.  Nevada, South Carolina, and March 1 happen in between.  Hillary went after Bernie several times.  Bernie responded in kind, but rarely initiated.

You would normally think the underdog would feel the need to take the initiative if this many important primaries and caucuses are happening before they meet again.  This either means that both candidates think Hillary is trailing, or the rules have changed.

My guess is both think that Bernie will win enough voters over in time if she doesn’t manage to discredit him enough.  To that end, it looks like Hillary thinks her best angle is to tie herself as closely to President Obama as any candidate ever has to an incumbent, while trying to convince everyone Bernie is not on board.

I’m not sure it will work, but it makes perfect sense why she’s trying.  Her remaining base is with African-American and Hispanic voters, along with Democratic loyalists and seniors.  The majority of this coalition appears strongly pro-Obama.

Details are Hillary’s friend.  She rattled them off as she usually does.  If this was a contest of policy knowledge, she would win.  If you gave candidates a pop quiz on items a president might want to be informed on instead of holding an election, Hillary would win the general in a tight race over Jeb Bush.

Yesterday was another difficult one on emails.  New leaks indicate the “top secret” emails from Hillary’s server that were considered too damaging to national security to release, actually circulated among many email accounts at the State Department.

The individuals involved are a who’s who of close Hillary aides, many of whom have some involvement with her campaign.  Somehow, this was not deemed worthy of a moderator question.  If you’re going to ask Bernie how big of a share of GDP he thinks the government should be (a very necessary ask), how do you stay quiet on this?

Most of the questions were solid and fair, but in the several debates and town halls, the email question has only surfaced intermittently.  Given Hillary’s current favorability and trustworthy ratings, it doesn’t make sense.

Yes, there is an obvious explanation.  Many of the moderators are protecting her.  Chuck Todd went there in the last debate, and it made sense for him to do so.  He’s in Tim Russert’s old job and needs to show he can ask a tough question once in a while.

Gwen Ifill is both respected inside the Beltway and was accused of favoring Barack Obama in 2008.  Whether in the front or back of her brain, she probably thinks it’s Hillary’s turn.  Judy Woodruff has covered Hillary since her White House years.  Neither want to add fuel to the fire.

They aren’t necessarily doing her a favor.

At least for now, Bernie has locked down younger voters, progressives, and many blue collar men.  That’s dangerously close to half of the Democrats who will vote over the next few months.  If Hillary loses any ground among her voters, she’s screwed.

This was her last chance to address these concerns in front of a large audience before a ton of states vote.  New Hampshire exit polls clearly show many Democrats don’t trust her either.  It’s not the majority of Dems, but of the 32% that said trust was an important issue, Bernie got over 90% of the votes.

Previously, Hillary argued she was the best choice because she was ready to hold the office and Bernie wasn’t.  That didn’t seem to work, and she stayed away from focusing on that argument this time.

She’s still spending some time on pushing the idea that Bernie can’t actually get any of his plans adopted, but even that isn’t an easy sell.  A plurality of Republicans are indicating they have no problem supporting Donald Trump, who provides less detail on many policies than Sanders.

Repetition has helped Trump.  The longer he sticks around, the longer he leads the polls, the more plausible it seems that he could actually get Mexico to buy a wall, or China to cry uncle.  He wasn’t supposed to win New Hampshire either, maybe Trump knows more than his critics.

Same thing with Bernie.  He wasn’t supposed to be viable.  If it’s so impossible to create this revolution, how is he raising over $7 million from micro donors in less than 24 hours?  The longer he remains a contender, the more he wins, the more reasonable his revolution appears.

That leaves Obama.  Hillary is banking on a combination of tying herself to him, claiming Sanders is opposed to him (and disloyal), and having members of the Congressional Black Caucus and other African-American establishment leaders take her side.

Can’t criticize the decision or thought process.  However, it opens her up on foreign policy.  We saw a sneak preview in the debate.  Previously, Sanders was very reluctant to go much past talking about the Iraq War vote.

I was right, she was wrong, she has more experience, I have better judgment.  That was the correct way to frame his argument, but also too thin as it was just one example from 14 years ago (as Hillary likes to point out.)  This time he mentioned Libya.

Bernie has to go there to make an argument that he’s a reasonable foreign policy alternative.  He needs to show Hillary has not learned her lesson about leaving vacuums after U.S. intervention.  The problem was any mention of anything that happened during her term as Secretary of State is an implicit criticism of President Obama.

Well, if she’s going to claim you are anti-Obama anyway, why hold back?  For weeks, he was caught halfway.  Enough daylight between him and the president to give Hillary leverage, but still holding back on the foreign policy side.  The other day, Obama’s speech in Springfield sounded like an endorsement for Hillary.

Ex-Press Secretary Jay Carney said out loud that he’s certain Obama wants to see Hillary win.  It’s possible the recent leaks over the email investigation are due to concerns the administration will do what it can to make the issue go away.

The DNC is with Hillary.  The vast majority of super delegates are with Hillary.  What exactly does he have to lose at this point?

So Bernie began finally laying out his foreign policy philosophy.  It wasn’t as smooth as when he talks about the billionaires.  It involved references to things that happened before most of his voters were born.  Somehow, Henry Kissinger wound up as a debate topic.

Voters understand that Sanders wants to go further than Obama on most/all things, not turn the clock back.  I’m starting to think he can get away with letting Hillary run as his successor, while he runs as kicking it up a notch or seven.

Yes, Obama is “popular” with Democrats, in that they tell pollsters they approve of his presidency, have a favorable view of him, etc.  It doesn’t mean they are happy or satisfied.  Many Democrats answer right track/wrong track poll questions in the negative.  Congress is still incredibly unpopular, and that doesn’t only cover the GOP majority.

By running against Bernie, and hugging Obama, rather than being able to build a real case for herself, Hillary runs the risk of a total jailbreak of all but her most committed supporters if this last firewall breaks.

In terms of physical location, that means South Carolina and the southern March 1 states, but mentally, it’s the Obama thing.  If a majority of primary voters become comfortable with the idea that the president could have gone further, that his successor most definitely should, she’s done.

On the surface, it was a relatively quiet debate.  She won on points, and he more than survived.  Underneath, the ground shifted.

 

 

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