The Democratic Debate: Clinton Wins On Style And Gets Support Of Pundits; Sanders Wins On The Issues And Wins The Focus Groups

CNN Democratic Debate

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders each entered the first Democratic debate with different goals, and both accomplished them. Clinton was more polished, with both more debating experience, and having prepared in a conventional manner. She was also better at evading questions she did not want to answer. She won the chattering class. The same journalists who have underestimated Sanders from the start, and have not taken his campaign seriously, say that Clinton won.

Sanders won on the issues, and did what he intended to enhance his campaign. Sanders won the focus groups. He gained 35,163 followers on Twitter, compared to 13,252 for Clinton. Although unscientific and of questionable meaning, he won the online polls by large margins. Alternet summarized:

Bernie Sanders by all objective measures won the debate. Hands down. I don’t say this as a personal analysis of the debate – the very idea of “winning” a debate is silly to me. I say this because based on the only objective metrics we have, online polls and focus groups, he did win.  And it’s not even close.

Sanders won the CNN focus group, the Fusion focus group, and the Fox News focus group – in the latter, he even converted several Hillary supporters. He won the Slate online poll, the CNN/Time online poll, 9News ColoradoThe Street online poll, Fox5 poll, the conservative Drudge online poll and the liberal Daily Kos online poll. There wasn’t, to this writer’s knowledge, a poll he didn’t win by at least an 18 point margin.  But you wouldn’t know this from reading the establishment press. The New York Times, The New Yorker, CNN, Politico, Slate, New York Magazine, and Vox all of which unanimously say Hillary Clinton cleaned house.

Sanders went into the debate with an unconventional preparation as I discussed last week. Sanders did not go into the debate memorizing zingers or planning to try to take down Hillary Clinton. He used the debate to get access to potential voters who were not aware of him, and succeeded. This is also seen in the number of Google searches for him. To some degree this could be the novelty factor, from people who already knew about Clinton but not Sanders, but the large number of people expressing interest is bound to translate into some new supporters.

While Clinton did receive far more favorable reviews from the mainstream media, there are exceptions. Philip Bump at The Washington Post did point out how Sanders was the candidate breaking through. The Chicago Tribune considered Sanders to be the winner. Russell Berman at The Atlantic  argued that Sanders might receive a bigger bounce from the debate than Clinton. As might be expected, many blogs on the left also felt that Sanders won the debate.

With his lack of conventional debate preparation, there were areas in which Sanders could have explained himself better, along with other points where Sanders clearly won on the issues.  He should have been  prepared for a question based upon the recent Meet the Press interview. I recently discussed why the Democratic Socialist label is not hurting Bernie Sanders. Despite the labels he prefers, Sanders seeks to reform capitalism, not eliminate it. It is notable that he did point out his support for small and medium sized business:

SANDERS: I think everybody is in agreement that we are a great entrepreneurial nation. We have got to encourage that. Of course, we have to support small and medium-sized businesses.

But you can have all of the growth that you want and it doesn’t mean anything if all of the new income and wealth is going to the top 1 percent. So what we need to do is support small and medium-sized businesses, the backbone of our economy, but we have to make sure that every family in this country gets a fair shake…

Sanders could have also done a better job on guns, but he did note his D- lifetime rating from the NRA (with Sanders also receiving an F at  least once).

Let’s begin, Anderson, by understanding that Bernie Sanders has a D-minus voting rating (ph) from the NRA. Let’s also understand that back in 1988 when I first ran for the United States Congress, way back then, I told the gun owners of the state of Vermont and I told the people of the state of Vermont, a state which has virtually no gun control, that I supported a ban on assault weapons. And over the years, I have strongly avoided instant background checks, doing away with this terrible gun show loophole. And I think we’ve got to move aggressively at the federal level in dealing with the straw man purchasers.

Also I believe, and I’ve fought for, to understand that there are thousands of people in this country today who are suicidal, who are homicidal, but can’t get the healthcare that they need, the mental healthcare, because they don’t have insurance or they’re too poor. I believe that everybody in this country who has a mental crisis has got to get mental health counseling immediately

While some Democrats will attack his record, I believe that Sanders’ approach of considering both the need for gun control and the rights of hunters to be a stronger position for a general election. Sanders would also be in a stronger position than Clinton to bring both sides to the table to work on sensible gun legislation.

Sanders was more prepared for the questions about Black Lives Matter. Note that Sanders repeated the phrase, but Clinton did not. Sanders wins a point over Clinton in his support for expanding Social Security. In contrast to the Republicans, it was good to see a political party which faced reality on climate change, but there are also aspects of Clinton’s environmental record which could have been challenged.

Sanders was right in arguing that war should only be considered as a last resort. Clinton was unable to defend her mistakes on Libya or Syria, but her opponents could also have done a better job of criticizing her on these. Perhaps it would have been different if Joe Biden was there, considering how he spent four years opposing Clinton’s hawkish views. Sanders was also far better than Clinton when discussing civil liberties, including his opposition to NSA surveillance, and marijuana laws, including opposition to the drug war. Despite calling himself a Democratic Socialist, in many ways Sanders is the most libertarian candidate running from either party (at least for us left-libertarians who concentrate on civil liberties as opposed to greater freedom for giant corporations).

Clinton was right in saying that the economy does better when a Democrat is in office. It was clear that any of the participants in last night’s debate would have been better than the Republicans running. She was knocked for her flip-flopping on the issues. Factcheck.org exposed her for trying to throw her previous statements on TPP down the memory hole:

Clinton revised her earlier position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed trade agreement between 12 Pacific Rim countries, claiming that she merely said she “hoped” it would be a “gold standard.” But her earlier support was more unequivocal.

The topic arose when debate moderator Anderson Cooper asked Clinton if some of her recent position changes were tied to political expediency, and he specifically referenced Clinton’s recent decision to oppose the TPP.

“You supported his trade deal dozens of times. You even called it the ‘gold standard.’ Now, suddenly, last week, you’re against it,” Cooper said. “Will you say anything to get elected?”

Clinton said that over the course of her career, her values and principles have remained consistent, though some positions have evolved as she “absorb[s] new information.”

“You know, take the trade deal,” Clinton said. “I did say, when I was secretary of state, three years ago, that I hoped it would be the gold standard. It was just finally negotiated last week, and in looking at it, it didn’t meet my standards. My standards for more new, good jobs for Americans, for raising wages for Americans. And I want to make sure that I can look into the eyes of any middle-class American and say, ‘this will help raise your wages.’ And I concluded I could not.”

But Clinton didn’t add the “hoped it would be” qualifier when she made the initial comment about the TPP in 2012.

“This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field,” Clinton remarked in Adelaide, Australia, on Nov. 15, 2012. “And when negotiated, this agreement will cover 40 percent of the world’s total trade and build in strong protections for workers and the environment.”

Two days later, in Singapore, Clinton again sang the praises of the TPP.

“The so-called TPP will lower barriers, raise standards, and drive long-term growth across the region,” Clinton said. “It will cover 40 percent of the world’s total trade and establish strong protections for workers and the environment. Better jobs with higher wages and safer working conditions, including for women, migrant workers and others too often in the past excluded from the formal economy will help build Asia’s middle class and rebalance the global economy.”

The same article also noted that Clinton has repeated some of the same lies she told in the past about the email scandal which have been debunked in the past by fact checkers,

When asked about her unusual email arrangement as secretary of state, Clinton said, “What I did was allowed by the State Department.” That’s not the full story.

Clinton conducted government business exclusively using a personal email account (hdr22@clintonemail.com), and those emails were stored on a private server.

As we have written before, the State Department and the Clinton campaign have cited a National Archives and Records Administration rule issued in 2009 that said federal agencies that allow the use of personal emails must preserve them “in the appropriate agency recordkeeping system.” So personal emails were allowed.

But federal rules also required Clinton to preserve her work emails “at the end of the Secretary’s tenure or sooner if necessary.” She did not turn over copies of her emails to the State Department until Dec. 5, 2014 — nearly two years after she left office on Feb. 1, 2013.

Also, whether the State Department allowed it or not, Clinton’s decision “to conduct all e-mail correspondence through a private e-mail network, using a non-.gov address, is inconsistent with long-established policies and practices under the Federal Records Act and NARA regulations governing all federal agencies,” according to congressional testimony of Jason R. Baron, a former director of litigation at the National Archives, who is now a lawyer at Drinker Biddle.

Sanders’ biggest error was to present statistics for underemployment when making statements about unemployment, and got the ranking of the United States in income inequality wrong.

Sanders did provide an unexpected lifeline to Clinton when the email scandal came up, objecting to discussing this instead of the issues. It makes sense that he would not want to include this in his campaign, especially at a Democratic debate in front of partisan Democrats invited by the DNC. Besides, if Sanders had his way, he would talk about nothing other than income inequality and related economic matters throughout the debate, and the campaign. It is also unnecessary for Sanders to discuss this when there are still around thirty-six FOIA suits in progress along with the Justice Department investigation. If this was a debate in the general election, the Republicans could have raised a lot of valid points against Clinton, and this time would not have had to make things up as with Benghazi. As The Washington Post noted, the email scandal is not a problem which is going away. Sanders can sit back and let it all play out.

While both Clinton and Sanders could claim victories in this debate, the night did not go as well for the other candidates. I thought Martin O’Malley often did a fine job, including setting Clinton straight on economic policy at one point, but so far there are no signs he is receiving credit for this.  He has shown he could make a fine cabinet member, but it is hard to see him becoming a viable candidate for the nomination this year.

I give Lincoln Chafee credit for taking on Clinton over both her support for the Iraq war and over ethics. While he has no chance at becoming president, probably not now or ever, I do hope he remains around in politics, and perhaps in the next administration, to provide a conscience. Unfortunately he will be most remembered for being unprepared for his first vote as a Senator. Jim Webb blew any chance of using this debate to improve his campaign, and probably will only be remembered for having said he killed somebody.

Donald Trump also tried to get in on the action by live-blogging the debate, but he seemed totally over his head when issues came up. Once again, the Democrats showed they were far superior to the Republican candidates.

 

Sanders Joins Obama In Opposing Clinton’s Hawkish Views On Syria

hillary_clinton_warmonger_460

While economics have so far dominated the campaign, I feel that the number one reason to nominate Bernie Sanders and not Hillary Clinton is to prevent a return to the foreign policy of George Bush and get us involved in further foolish military intervention. Clinton has a long history of irrational hawkishness. This includes pushing for the Iraq war with false claims of ties between Saddam and al Qaeda, along with advocating increased military intervention as Secretary of State. Fortunately the Obama White House frequently opposed advice from Clinton, often with Joe Biden leading the opposition to her proposals. When the Obama administration did listen to her on intervention in Libya, it turned into a disaster.

Clinton has disagreed with Obama on Syria, favoring increased military intervention. She has attacked Obama on Syria saying, “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle. ” It sound like a good principle to me, sort of the political equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath, and an idea Clinton should consider. Instead Clinton is proposing more “stupid stuff” in proposing that the United States impose a no-fly zone in Syria. Enforcement of this would not only increase the risk of us getting entangled in the conflict between the Syrian government and ISIS, but also risk direct military confrontation with Russia.

Bernie Sanders has joined Obama in opposing Clinton’s desire for this increase in military intervention. The Washington Post reports:

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said Saturday that he opposes a unilateral American no-fly zone in Syria, offering a less hawkish stance on the war-torn region than Hillary Rodham Clinton, his chief rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, and a position more in line with President Obama.

“We must be very careful about not making a complex and dangerous situation in Syria even worse,” Sanders said in a statement to The Washington Post. “I support President Obama’s efforts to combat ISIS in Syria while at the same time supporting those in that country trying to remove the brutal dictatorship of Bashar Assad.”

But, Sanders added: “I oppose, at this point, a unilateral American no-fly zone in Syria, which could get us more deeply involved in that horrible civil war and lead to a never-ending U.S. entanglement in that region.”

In a television interview broadcast Thursday, Clinton advocated additional air power to protect civilians in the multi-front war, in which Syrian rebels and international advocates have said that air patrols in Syria’s north could give civilians a refuge from Assad’s bombing raids…

Clinton’s position puts her in the same camp as some Republican contenders for the presidential nomination, including former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich…

Sanders, who has a pair of rallies planned in Massachusetts on Saturday, has been speaking out in his recent campaign appearances about “the cost of war,” accusing Republicans of being too eager to insert the U.S. military into conflicts that will result in casualties and a range of other problems for returning U.S. soldiers.

Saturday’s events, planned in Springfield and Boston, come amid a fresh burst of momentum for Sanders, whose campaign announced this week that it had raised $26 million in the last fundraising quarter, nearly as much as Clinton. Recent polls from New Hampshire have showed Sanders leading Clinton, and polls from Iowa have showed a close contest.

I don’t know how much of his economic agenda Bernie Sanders could pass when the Republicans can block legislation with forty Senators. The big difference between a Sanders presidency and a Clinton presidency will probably seen in the areas where the president has more direct power. If Sanders is president we are far less likely to wind up in more unnecessary wars, and far less likely to see a continuation of infringements on civil liberties with activities such as the NSA surveillance of American citizens.

Update: Sanders reportedly had more record crowds out to see him in Boston. The Boston Globe reports it was “the largest rally for a presidential primary candidate in recent Massachusetts history, topping 10,000 people drawn to Boston Common eight years ago by Barack Obama.”

Fox Republican Debate Dominated By The Donald

Fox Debate August 2015

Fox brought in a record 24 million viewers for the first Republican debate on Thursday night , and nobody doubts it was because of Donald Trump. CNN explained what this number means:

For perspective, the first GOP primary debate four years ago, also on Fox, attracted 3.2 million viewers.

The most-watched primary debate that year, broadcast by ABC, reached 7.6 million.

Thursday’s debate audience more than tripled that one.

The audience easily exceeded pretty much everything that’s been on American television this year, from the finale of “The Walking Dead” to the final episode of David Letterman’s “Late Show.”

The debate was bigger than all of this year’s NBA Finals and MLB World Series games, and most of the year’s NFL match-ups.

It also trumped Jon Stewart’s Thursday night’s sign-off from “The Daily Show,” which averaged 3.5 million viewers.

Trump is a known ratings magnet. His reality show “The Celebrity Apprentice” used to reach 20 million viewers a week. But it has slipped over the years, averaging 6 to 8 million viewers for recent seasons.

The debate, as well as most of the talk afterwards, was about Donald Trump. They might as well have named it Presidential Apprentice. By the end, many viewers might have been expecting to go to the boardroom to see who Trump would fire. Hint–it might not have been one of the candidates considering what he has been saying about Megyn Kelley and the other Fox correspondents. Among the most crude:

Trump was the center of attention from the start when the very first question was a show of hands  as to “who is unwilling tonight to pledge your support to the eventual nominee of the Republican party and pledge to not run an independent campaign against that person.” Only Donald Trump raised his hand. (Full transcript of the debate can be found here).

Donald Trump did make a great case for campaign finance reform:

I will tell you that our system is broken. I gave to many people, before this, before two months ago, I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give.

And do you know what?

When I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them, they are there for me.

QUESTION: So what did you get?

TRUMP: And that’s a broken system.

QUESTION: What did you get from Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi?

TRUMP: Well, I’ll tell you what, with Hillary Clinton, I said be at my wedding and she came to my wedding.

You know why?

She didn’t have a choice because I gave. I gave to a foundation that, frankly, that foundation is supposed to do good. I didn’t know her money would be used on private jets going all over the world. It was.

Trump also restated his opposition to the Iraq war but flip-flopped on his previous support for a single payer system. Trump could have been the best candidate in the room if he hadn’t turned into a Tea Party clown.

There were some other moments when Republican candidates deserved credit. This includes Rand Paul criticizing both his fellow Republican candidates and Hillary Clinton for their policies which on sending more arms to middle east:

I’ve been fighting amidst a lot of opposition from both Hillary Clinton, as well as some Republicans who wanted to send arms to the allies of ISIS. ISIS rides around in a billion dollars worth of U.S. Humvees. It’s a disgrace. We’ve got to stop — we shouldn’t fund our enemies, for goodness sakes.

This was followed by John Kasich defending taking funds for the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare:

First of all, Megyn, you should know that — that President Reagan expanded Medicaid three or four times.

Secondly, I had an opportunity to bring resources back to Ohio to do what?

To treat the mentally ill. Ten thousand of them sit in our prisons. It costs $22,500 a year to keep them in prison. I’d rather get them their medication so they could lead a decent life.

Rand Paul made a another good point when he argued with Chris Christie over NSA surveillance:

The Fourth Amendment was what we fought the Revolution over! John Adams said it was the spark that led to our war for independence, and I’m proud of standing for the Bill of Rights, and I will continue to stand for the Bill of Rights.

Beyond this, we primarily learned from the debates that Republicans hate Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Obamacare, and Planned Parenthood.

I am looking forward to seeing Bernie Sanders debate Hillary Clinton on foreign military intervention and suppression of civil liberties. Clinton’s record on these topics does fit well in the GOP mainstream.

I am hesitant to write about winners because we have learned that the winner of a debate is not based upon the debate itself, but the perception of the candidates after people have listened to the talking heads in the days following the debate. This is further complicated with the Republican Party as most of their voters receive their thoughts from Fox. Criticism from the Fox commentators could make Donald Trump look like a loser, but so far he has managed to survive better than the pundits have predicted, and it is not looking like Fox will be successful against him.

From my perspective, which could be quite different from that of Fox, the winners were John Kasich and Marco Rubio. Kasich barely squeaked into the prime time debate, and the two debates did show that Kasich really did deserve to be there more than Rick Perry, who was excluded, possibly by fudging the results of the polls. Kasich and Jeb Bush looked the most stable in the group. Bush already has his position as top contender after Trump, but now Kasich might replace Scott Walker as the leading challenger to Bush and move into the top tier.

I also downgraded Bush for his discussion of his brother’s policies. It wasn’t faulty intelligence which got us in Iraq as he claimed, but his brother twisting the intelligence to justify the war he wanted to start. Jeb! also seemed oblivious to the fact that ISIS and the other problems now occurring in Iraq are due to his brother destabilizing the region. They all seemed oblivious, when talking about the deficit, to the fact that the deficit is a consequence of George W. Bush both fighting the war on credit and cutting taxes on the wealthy.

The other Republican who looked good, if you ignore his actual views, was Marco Rubio. He could make a good candidate in a television-based campaign. The entry of Trump into the race made it hard for candidates like Rubio to get attention, but he did get a shot at being noticed Thursday.

On the other hand, it seemed a battle throughout the evening between Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz to be the most bat-shit candidate on stage, which was impressive considering that Donald Trump was on the same stage. I was edging towards awarding this to Huckabee, with lines such as, “The purpose of the military is kill people and break things,” until Cruz gave his closing statement, and clinched the title:

If I’m elected president, let me tell you about my first day in office. The first thing I intend to do is to rescind every illegal and unconstitutional executive action taken by Barack Obama.

The next thing I intend to do is instruct the Department of Justice to open an investigation into these videos and to prosecute Planned Parenthood for any criminal violations.

The next thing I intend to do is instruct the Department of Justice and the IRS to start (sic) persecuting religious liberty, and then intend to cancel the Iran deal, and finally move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

I will keep my word. My father fled Cuba, and I will fight to defend liberty because my family knows what it’s like to lose it.

In contrast, Huckabee went for the laugh as opposed to Cruz’s tirade:

It seems like this election has been a whole lot about a person who’s very high in the polls, that doesn’t have a clue about how to govern.

A person who has been filled with scandals, and who could not lead, and, of course, I’m talking about Hillary Clinton.

So, in conclusion, Trump wins for continuing to totally dominate the discussion, Kasich and Rubio had smaller victories which might improve their position if the race should return to be about the more conventional candidates, and Cruz edged Huckabee for the scariest Republican in the room. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders must really have felt happy seeing this debate and the caliber of candidate they might come up against in the general election.