One has to think that Republican campaigns will use this clip, and more than a few other sound bites from last night’s Democratic debate between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, to prepare salvos in the general election. Last night both Democrats fired plenty of salvos at each other too, but one of the oddest exchanges came in this clip featured by the Washington Post. Who’s more progressive — an ideologue, or a pragmatist? And who is more thin-skinned about the definition?
Hmmmm. Let’s go to the judges on that one:
As they had at a town hall forum the night before, the two remaining Democratic presidential contenders also squabbled over the modern definition of the word “progressive,” which has become the preferred term for the Democratic left.
“A progressive is someone who makes progress,” Clinton said.
Sanders, who enjoys enormous enthusiasm among the party’s liberal base, continued to make the argument that Clinton is too heavily dependent on those who have financed her campaign and made her personally wealthy. He said that he does “not only talk the talk, but walk the walk. I am very proud to be the only candidate up here that does not have a super PAC.”
Clinton accused Sanders of engaging in a “very artful smear” of her character. She insisted she had never changed her position on any issue based on having received contributions from special interests.
A “very artful smear”? Sanders stated a fact — Hillary’s raising money from super-PACs and he isn’t. Like I tweeted at the time, this sounds very familiar coming from Hillary:
I saw the Artful Smears open for The Vast Right Wing Conspirators back in the late 90s.
— Ed Morrissey (@EdMorrissey) February 5, 2016
Sanders also repeatedly hammered Clinton on progressive authenticity, helped in no small part by a tough question from Chuck Todd on various flip-flops executed by Hillary when running for president. The tone got nasty at times, and was contentious almost all the way through the debate.
One notable point of comity came when Todd raised the question of Hillary’s e-mail scandal, and repeatedly pressed her to offer a “one hundred percent” guarantee that it wouldn’t result in an indictment or any other political disaster for the Democrats. Hillary insisted that there was no real problem except for Republicans attempting to smear her, surprisingly bringing up Benghazi as a triumph for her over the GOP conspiracy against her. (Oddly, or perhaps not so oddly, the MSNBC panel didn’t follow up to ask why her leadership left Benghazi without adequate security and resulted in the first American ambassador killed in the line of duty since the Carter administration.)
Given the opportunity, Sanders once again refused to “politicize” the e-mail issue. That caused plenty of groaning on Twitter among conservatives, but once again, it makes sense in the context of a Democratic debate. Voters tuning into these forums don’t care about Hillary’s e-mail scandal, and it’s out of Sanders’ hands anyway. He noted that the FBI investigation continues (which Hillary laughably called “a security review”), and shrugged off any further comment. That’s smart; if the FBI and DoJ return an indictment, then Hillary’s finished. If not, then his input’s not going to make much difference in the Democratic primary. As an electoral issue, it’s only going to hurt Democrats in the general election, which was the reason for Todd’s question. The only thing that truly matters to Sanders is that the question got asked.
The biggest takeaway from last night’s debate is that Hillary feels the pressure from Sanders more than at any time in the campaign. She didn’t come out to rise above the fray, as in earlier debates; she came out swinging … and yelling. At times, it sounded like both Democrats needed their hearing aids adjusted. Neither of them has much skill at modulating their tone for effectiveness, and for most of the debate (I missed the first 20 minutes), the last two Democrats standing sounded very much like they couldn’t stand each other. There’s an opening for a Republican who can sound optimistic and energetic in the general election, and fortunately the GOP has more than one of those candidates who can fit that bill.