The fourth 2016 Presidential Democratic debate may have happened on Sunday, but media pundits are still breaking down everything between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Yes, there’s still a third candidate in the race, but no one is wasting their time on that one. Some of the biggest things that came out were that Clinton has met quite her match in Sanders as he’s more than capable of standing up to the steely lady while also looking more in touch with the real world.
Even in town hall type settings, Clinton has been looking more to be pontificating to her audience while Sanders is stirring them up and getting the young voters in action, similar to how Barack Obama did back when he knocked her out. We know that it will come down to a Clinton Sanders duke it out, but here’s some of the major takeaways from the debate followed by a very micro breakdown look at the talking points. Sanders wound up talking more than Clinton too if you can believe that.
Bernie Sanders similarity to Donald Trump
It’s not often you hear Sanders say the words “my good friend Donald Trump” — but the two have something in common: Their tones match a moment of anger within the electorate.
Clinton promised continuity. She highlighted her record. She touted her ability to get results within the limitations of the modern political climate.
Sanders offered none of that. Like Trump, his cause is change, not compromise.
His take on why his Medicare-for-all proposal can’t pass in Congress could have been applied to just about any of his arguments: “It’s because we have a campaign finance system that is corrupt. We have super PACs. We have the pharmaceutical industry pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into campaign contributions and lobbying and the private insurance companies as well.”
Sanders’ fire-and-brimstone touches on some of the same topics as the Republican front-runner — particularly super PACs and the influence of money.
Just like Trump, Sanders even riffed on polling when asked about his strategy to win over African-American voters, arguing that they’ll like him more once he wins in Iowa and New Hampshire.
“Let me talk about polling. … In terms of polling, guess what, we are running ahead of Secretary Clinton in terms of taking on my good friend Donald Trump,” Sanders said. “We have the momentum. We’re on a path to a victory.”
Hillary Clinton’s similarities to President Barack Obama
It was her go-to move, and she went to it a lot: On gun control, health care, financial regulation, her “many hours in the Situation Room advising President Obama” and more, Clinton cast herself as the defender of Obama’s legacy and Sanders as someone who’d toss out his accomplishments.
There are three reasons for the strategy: Obama remains popular with Democrats. She has a strong claim to the President’s legacy having served in his Cabinet as his top foreign policy officer. And minority voters favor Obama and Clinton over Sanders.
“I am going to defend President Obama for taking on Wall Street, taking on the finance industry and getting results,” Clinton said.
Health Care: Ideology vs. reality
Sanders’ shoot-for-the-moon liberalism and Clinton’s embrace of Obama were clearest in their biggest fight of the evening: health care.
Just two hours before the debate, Sanders had rolled out a tax plan that would fund his Medicare-for-all proposal to scrap private health insurance entirely and replace it with a government-run program.
Sanders offered himself as the true champion of the left’s biggest policy dreams.
“What a Medicare-for-all program does is finally provide in this country health care for every man, woman and child as a right,” he said. “The truth is that Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry Truman … they believed that health care should be available to all of our people.”
Clinton, meanwhile, noted that Democrats had fought for a “public option” in Congress before Obamacare was passed — but, to liberals’ disappointment, hadn’t succeeded.
And then she turned to Obama’s legacy.
“We have the Affordable Care Act. That is one of the greatest accomplishments of President Obama, the Democratic Party and our country,” Clinton said. “To tear it up and start over again, pushing our country back into that kind of a contentious debate, I think is the wrong direction.”
Hillary Clinton has the foreign policy advantage
When the debate shifted to foreign policy in its second hour, Clinton displayed a command that was in sharp contrast to Sanders’ quiet.
She gamely handled a question about the moment she handed Russian officials a “reset” button as secretary of state and defended what she got for that symbolic button: a new START Treaty, as well as cooperation on sanctions for Iran.
Sanders, on the other hand, has tried to turn back questions about his foreign policy knowledge by pivoting to judgment. But as the primaries draw near, voters often spend time thinking about the commander-in-chief test — and Sanders has a long way to go in convincing voters of his readiness to handle foreign affairs.
Clinton & Sanders aren’t wasting time with Republican bashing
In every Republican debate, all the GOP candidates join together to bash Obama, Clinton and “Obama-Clinton” every chance they can get. And in the earlier Democratic debates, all Clinton and Sanders could talk about was how awful the Republican presidential field — particularly Trump — is.
Sunday night, there were very few cross-party attacks.
It’s a reflection of a tightening race: Clinton spent her first months of the 2016 campaign refusing to even utter Sanders’ name. Now, he’s a real threat, and her strategy was aimed at him, not the GOP.
Health care and gun control, in particular, have emerged as key splits in the Democratic race where Clinton believes she can win liberal voters from Sanders.
The debate was just a block away from the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, the site of last year’s racially-motivated shooting of nine churchgoers. Clinton used that proximity to criticize Sanders, painting him as cozy with the National Rifle Association.
“He has voted with the NRA, with the gun lobby, numerous times. He voted against the Brady Bill five times. He voted for what we call the Charleston loophole. He voted for immunity for gun makers and sellers,” she said.
“He voted to let guns go onto Amtrak, guns go onto national parks. He voted against doing research to figure out how we can save lives.”
Sanders didn’t interject as the debate shifted topics — a signal he was ready to move on.
Sanders is ready for a fight with Clinton
No, he wouldn’t swipe at Clinton’s husband, saying he wants to focus “on the issues, not Bill Clinton’s personal behavior.”
But Sanders did show a new willingness to attack Clinton on personal matters. Twice, he hit her for delivering paid speeches to Goldman Sachs — a move intended to undermine Clinton’s credibility on Wall Street reform and call into question her commitment to reforming the political system more broadly.
“I don’t get personal speaking fees from Goldman Sachs,” he said.
Minutes later, he swung again. “You’ve received over $600,000 in speaking fees from Goldman Sachs in one year,” he said, later turning his focus to criminal justice and noting that “not one of their executives is prosecuted” for actions during the 2008 economic crisis.
The man who often crowed that he’d never run a negative attack ad in his life appears to sense that, with a lead in his sights in Iowa and New Hampshire, it’s time to strike.
Sunday night’s presidential debate on NBC marked a shift in what has thus far been a remarkably cordial race among Democrats. In looking at data collected by our friends at the Inside Gov team, the debate provided a window into how contentious the nomination process has become during the last few weeks within the Democratic Party.
Stylistically, the gloves certainly came off in a number of exchanges between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Both talked over each other, and although Sanders always tends to speak in a bit of a yell, Clinton turned up her volume quite a bit, her voice at times hoarse. Clinton also repeatedly hit Sanders on his inconsistent support of President Barack Obama, at one point saying Sanders called Obama “weak.” The ensuing disdainful side-eye from Sanders in many ways encapsulates the current state of politics in America.
For the first time this cycle, Sanders talked the most during the debate. In each of the previous three, Clinton logged the most speaking time of the candidates onstage. Although it made sense the far-and-away frontrunner would talk the most during earlier Democratic showings, Clinton’s top-tier status has dwindled significantly in recent weeks.
In Iowa, where the first caucus of the primary season takes place Feb. 1, Sanders is now neck-and-neck with Clinton. Not only is Sanders’ surge in the polls coming at a prime time for his campaign, but it’s also mirrored in the amount of time he spoke during Sunday’s debate.
Indeed, even the subjects discussed during the debate seem to reflect Sanders’ new heightened standing. Moderators posed questions about the economy and Wall Street reform — issues central to Sanders’ campaign — more than any other topic. And topics much more in Clinton’s wheelhouse, like foreign policy and health care, weren’t addressed as much.
But Clinton’s camp might be more concerned about what was happening online during the debate. Using Google Trends data, which measures how often keywords are looked up on the search engine, InsideGov shows that interest in Sanders was higher throughout the evening.
While this certainly doesn’t spell doom for Clinton’s candidacy, it feeds into the narrative that (a) voters feel like they already know everything about the former first lady, and (b) there’s an unfamiliar, almost exciting air to Sanders. That’s a disconcerting position for Clinton to be in a few weeks out from Iowa, which dealt her a surprising defeat in the 2008 primary contest.
After the Iowa caucuses, New Hampshire holds the first primary votes of the nomination process on Feb. 9. The Democratic candidates will meet next on Feb. 11, for a debate moderated by PBS.