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Sanders vs. Clinton: The First Democratic Debate

Clinton Sanders

On Tuesday, Oct. 13, the five hopefuls for the democratic nomination debated one another for the very first time in the 2016 presidential race. The candidates, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb, and Lincoln Chafee took to the stage at the Wynn hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. The debate was moderated by CNN’s Anderson Cooper and included additional questions asked by Dana Bash, Don Lemon, and Juan Carlos Lopez also of CNN.

The frontrunners for the DNC ticket were obviously deemed Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders before the debate even took place, and the candidates proved that assertion to be correct. As for everyone else, if any previous expectations for an additional candidate to give Sanders and/ or Clinton a run for their money existed, they fell quite short.

As widely expected, the star of the first DNC debate was Hillary Clinton. The former Secretary of State undoubtedly proved and showcased why she is the top democratic contender in the 2016 election. Clinton persisted calmly and unwavering in not only her demeanor but also in her views and policies throughout the debate. She portrayed her obvious experience and expert knowledge of policy and issues facing the nation.

In terms of criticism and attacks, it was certainly not smooth sailing for her throughout the entire night, though. As expected, Clinton had to defend her past occurrences of flip-flopping and current lingering scandals ample times. The former Secretary of State smoothly handled these criticisms with a tactic that has continuously been quite uncommon for her: humor. Clinton’s few lighthearted, yet sarcastic jokes were most likely used as an attempt to stray away from the “robotic” as many call it, demeanor that she is often criticized for and to humanize herself as a candidate.

Clinton was led to defend herself on many differing issues throughout the debate. Some of the criticisms were regarding her past problem with flip-flopping stances on issues such as same-sex marriage and the Pacific Rim trade deal. Others that were more highly expected for her to be called out on regarded her email server controversy as well as the Benghazi scandal.

“I’m a progressive. But I’m a progressive that likes to get things done,” stated former Secretary Clinton. By far, this served as the candidate’s best comeback to any criticism from the other candidates throughout the night, and virtually summarized the entirety of her candidacy. Additionally, Clinton stated at one point, “I can’t think of anything more outsider than electing the first woman president.” This served as a covert dig at the assertion that many voters want an “outsider” [from the government] to be elected president.

Clinton also portrayed her unwavering fortitude when she came under fire from almost all of the other candidates on stage for her vote in favor of the Iraq war. She repudiated the idea of a relationship between her judgment being questioned regarding that vote and President Obama’s choice of her as Secretary of State.

“I recall very well being on a debate stage, I think, about 25 times with then Senator Obama, debating this very issue. After the election, he asked me to become Secretary of State. He valued my judgment, and I spent a lot of time with him in the Situation Room, going over some very difficult issues,” fought back Clinton. This was not only a fire back at her criticism from the candidates, but it was also an opportunity to plug her expert knowledge of foreign policy that she keenly took advantage of.

One thing that did come as a surprise was Clinton’s subtle attacks on Bernie Sanders, her current top rival for the 2016 democratic ticket. This was slightly shocking to many as Sanders has been reluctant to attack former Secretary Clinton, so many believed that she would not opt to give him a reason to begin attacking her.

Probably the most memorable and significant attack on Sanders from Clinton that also proved to be Sanders’ weakest moment of the evening was regarding his wavering stance on gun control. Clinton was asked whether Senator Sanders is “tough enough on guns” with which she responded “No, not at all.” This answer followed with Clinton strategically pointing out the fact that Sanders has voted against the Brady Bill, legislation to reduce gun violence, five different times. This proved to be a win for Clinton, as Senator Sanders was reluctant to attack her in the way that she attacked him regarding her own personal issues with flip-flopping in the past.

Clinton’s strongest and most memorable talking points throughout the debate included confronting GOP attacks on Planned Parenthood [she was the only democratic candidate to do this at the debate], calling for action by the entire country to stand up to the NRA to demand stricter gun laws, combating all forms of inequality, but especially economic and racial inequality as well as discrimination against the LGBTQ community, the importance of investing in scientific research by using climate change to grow the economy by way of job creation, raising the minimum wage, creating a fairer tax system that balances out all classes of Americans, paid family leave, the creation of totally free public college education, and comprehensive immigration reform.

“Personally, I think that Hillary’s strongest point is something other people continue to see as a downfall: her experience,” said senior Emily Mincey. “She has done amazing political work and she truly showed how capable she is. Her weakness is that she always seems stiff, though. People compare her to her husband Bill too much because he’s so personable. She is just as likable as he is, but people call her robotic, partly out of comparison and partly out if sexism.”

Hillary Clinton not only took on her top competitor in the democratic race for the White House, but she also did not shy away from attacking republicans at all. This fact alone proves that she is undoubtedly the best-suited and most prepared candidate to take on whichever candidate wins the republican nomination for the presidential election.

It is understood among most that Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders did not technically “lose” the first DNC debate, but many are reluctant to declare that he “won.” Sanders virtually performed exactly as he was expected to by plugging his support for combating income inequality and the issues of corruption within Wall Street [his general platform] as well as using the overwhelmingly hyped support he has received throughout his campaign as almost a form of adrenaline.

It was evident that Senator Sanders’ goal for the debate was to gain support from more diverse groups of voters, with the most important being African Americans, as he has yet to convince them that they are important to him and his campaign. His most memorable attempts at this were his mentioning of criminal justice reform being a goal of his if elected president in his opening statement at the debate as well as stating that “Black lives matter” at one point during the evening. It seemed though that he was simply attempting to solely make African American voters feel like they will be a priority for him as president rather than him truly and passionately caring for their well-being and future success.

Probably the most applauded moment of the entire night came after something Senator Sanders said; however, it was a positive thing regarding his top rival Hillary Clinton. As expected, Clinton was in the midst of defending herself from criticism regarding her use of a private email server during her tenure as Secretary of State with the strategically placed assertion that Americans care more about issues facing the nation than this controversy. During this discussion, Senator Sanders unexpectedly jumped in to defend former Secretary Clinton.

“Let me say something that may not be great politics, but I think the secretary is right, and that is that the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails,” said Sanders.

Clinton lightheartedly and appreciatively laughed and responded with “Me too, me too.”

Sanders then continued with “Enough of the emails, let’s talk about the real issues facing America.”

This came as a complete shock as Clinton’s email server controversy is undoubtedly the easiest attack that can be made against her.

It did not seem as though Senator Sanders really attempted to convince voters that he would be able to conquer the issue of electability as a self-proclaimed “democratic socialist,” as he has deemed himself, that he will undoubtedly face in this presidential election. Many Americans do not appreciate the term “socialist” and often do everything in their power to avoid it, which it why it was surprising that Sanders did not directly address the issues that he knows he will face running as one.

Senator Sanders certainly played to his exuberant supporters as well as to the ideological foundation of the Democratic Party throughout his performance at the debate, but it did not seem as though he expressed why he is electable as President of the United States.

Sanders’ additional highly applauded moments of the night and the aspects of his performance that have certainly received the most praise stemmed from his portrayal of his campaign’s platform: his passionate support for the fight for income equality and against the corruption on Wall Street. This is a positive thing because those plugs will most likely draw voters that are just now truly learning about Sanders and his views toward his campaign.

As expected, Sanders performed passionately and impromptu as he has on the campaign trail thus far, earning him a hefty support system of voters who wish to join the senator in creating a “political revolution,” as he has named it.

The candidates that did not shine nearly as bright at the first democratic debate as Clinton and Sanders were Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb, and Lincoln Chafee.

This debate was certainly a last ditch effort for former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley to gain relevance as a candidate in the 2016 race, and he unfortunately fell quite short. His performance as a whole was not a bad one, though. He coherently discussed his platform and did not even shy away from firing at his top competitors a few times, Clinton and Sanders.

Although he pointed out several instances of his executive experience (from serving as governor of Maryland) many times, some could even say at nauseam. Many of the former governor’s answers and responses began with something such as “In Maryland, we…” and concluded with the assertion that he will do the same for America if elected president. Many did not view these as positive answers and responses due to the fact that for quite some time, the state of Maryland was in turmoil during O’Malley’s gubernatorial tenure.

Despite that aspect of his performance, though, he might have had a fighting chance if he was not continuing to remain at 1% in the current polls. O’Malley exited the stage that evening without any standout moments or harsh attacks on his fellow opponents, continuing to leave him in the shadows of this race.

The former governor’s strongest aspect of his performance was also calling out Sanders on his shifting stance on gun control, just as Clinton did. Additionally, he made a vehement call to action for passage of firmer gun control legislation. This attack was a win for O’Malley, as it showed that he is still also a progressive alternative to the moderate Clinton, something that Sanders virtually took away from him [O’Malley] following the rise of the hype of support for the Sanders campaign.

Former Virginia senator Jim Webb had quite the lackluster night overall, but his opening statement certainly failed to start his evening off well due to the fact that he embarrassingly struggled to name all five of his daughters. Additionally, one of the main points he attempted to make in his opening statement turned out simply as a lamenting of money’s overreaching influence in politics.

Webb spent more of the evening quarreling with primary moderator Anderson Cooper than he did discussing his platform, stances on various issues, and calling out his fellow competitors, as he probably should have. Much of his and Cooper’s disagreements regarded him [Webb] feeling as though he did not have an adequate amount of speaking time in comparison to the other candidates, which is arguably no fault of anyone but his own.

Webb undoubtedly did not give a strong performance whatsoever, but certainly one of his weakest moments was when he was asked if undocumented immigrants should be granted access to the benefits of Obamacare. It was evident that the former senator had not previously cultivated a stance on this issue, as he paused for an uncomfortably long amount of time before giving his answer of “I wouldn’t have a problem with that.”

The former Senator unfortunately failed to have any standout or impressionable moments that could have gained him the relevance that he desperately needs at this point in the 2016 race for the democratic nomination. One week after the debate, Webb announced he was dropping out of the race for President.

The general consensus among most is that former senator, governor, and mayor Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island by far had the worst performance of the night. From the very beginning, he attempted to set himself apart from his fellow competitors by plugging his supposed “high ethical standards” and keenly noting that he has yet to be involved in any scandals, which was clearly primarily a dig at former Secretary Clinton.

At one point, it seemed as though he was on the brink of taking what would have been a memorable jab at Clinton regarding her email controversy, but ended up failing to make an impressionable and direct attack on her.

Chafee’s weakest and certainly most awkward moment of the evening occurred after being asked how he could press Clinton on Wall Street when he himself voted for a bill repealing the Glass-Steagall Act, a monumental piece of financial regulation legislation that separated the banking and securities industries from one another. Chafee responded, “Glass-Steagall was my very first vote. I’d just arrived, my dad had died in office.” This answer made it evident that Chafee was unprepared to defend that vote he had cast in the past, so he opted to play the sympathy card by mentioning the passing of his father as his excuse.

The primary negative aspect regarding Chafee as a presidential candidate is the fact that he was initially a republican, then became an independent, and is currently a democrat. This does not inspire trust or confidence in voters when choosing a candidate to vote for in a presidential election, as it seems unclear whether or not the candidate is a true pioneer in their party.

The next showcase of the democratic presidential candidates will be a forum entitled the “First in the South Candidates Forum” moderated by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Friday, Nov. 6 at 8 p.m.

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