On Tuesday night five candidates for president participated in the first Democratic primary debate of the season hosted by CNN in Las Vegas, Nevada. The debate was the first showdown between frontrunner Hillary Clinton, rising star Bernie Sanders, and a few people you have probably never heard of. Here is Forum Magazine’s Assistant Lead Writer Dylan McAuley’s analysis of the debate:
Hillary Clinton: After months of endless attacks from the right on a range of issues, Hillary Clinton finally had her winning night. It was abundantly clear that Clinton had the most debate and policy experience of the candidates in the Democratic field. She addressed every issue that came her way with a presidential poise and eloquence. She got in a series of strong attacks against Sanders on his weak gun control background and may have slowed his rapid ascent. More so than anyone else on stage, Clinton attacked several Republican candidates and the party in general. She even called the Republican Party the enemy of which she was most proud. While there was another strong performance on stage that evening, the night was truly Hillary Clinton’s.
Bernie Sanders: During the debate Bernie was Bernie. He was honest and appealing to his base of support. He easily explained any concerns about his record not being liberal enough, although his refusal to identify as a capitalist will likely hurt him. Sanders did a very effective job of appealing to people who are already voting for him, which seemed to be the most comfortable tactic for him. He will now have to expand his message to hold his position. While Sanders certainly does not have the debate skills of Clinton, he went toe-to-toe with her several times and even won a couple of those standoffs. The most interesting moment of the night was a gift for Hillary Clinton when Sanders said, “the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails,” when Anderson Cooper asked the former Secretary of State about the scandal. Perhaps above all else, Sanders’ most important accomplishment of the evening was showing the nation that he is a serious and legitimate contender for the presidency.
Martin O’Malley: The former Maryland governor had very clear answers and policies regarding a wide range of issues, the most impressive of which was his highly thought out energy policy. He is clearly an experienced politician, but he lacks the charisma and operation to compete with Clinton and Sanders. If this were any other election, he would likely be a contender. His best moment was his closing statement, which was the most impressive of the five candidates on stage. His statement had a focused message about his vision for the United States and had his debate performance been more like his last two minutes, he might have been more highly ranked. O’Malley had an acceptable night; he has a strong message, but he is doomed by a personality that simply cannot compete with the titans at the top.
Jim Webb: Surprisingly, the little known former Senator from Virginia managed to impress on some issues. While he often faded away in the conversation, mostly due to being flat out ignored, he got in a few good lines. But there was one pretty big issue: it seemed almost as though he was at the wrong party’s debate. Webb can appeal to the dying breed of conservative Democrats, but it’s not a winning strategy. Webb’s highlight of the evening came when Anderson Cooper asked all of the candidates which enemy they were most proud of, to which Webb responded by talking about killing a man during the Vietnam War. The former Senator might see a very minor bump in the polls and will probably continue to consistently poll fourth behind Clinton, Sanders, and Biden, who has not announced his candidacy.
Lincoln Chafee: Chafee had what was quite possibly the worst primary debate performance in American history. At times the former Rhode Island governor seemed like someone’s crazy uncle who just wandered onto the stage. He contributed almost nothing to the debate and essentially relied entirely upon trying to make the Iraq War, and his vote against it, relevant. Oddly enough, this did not work. He attacked Hillary Clinton on Iraq, and she shut him down by reminding him that President Obama appointed her to be the nation’s chief diplomat in spite of her vote to authorize the Iraq War. However, his weakest moment of the night, and probably the weakest moment for anyone at the debate, was his defense of his vote to repeal Glass-Steagall. Chafee said that he did not fully understand what he was voting for when he voted to repeal the law because his dad had died, and he was appointed to replace him in Congress with little experience so he was too new and inexperienced to make a decision. Yes, he admitted to voting to repeal legislation without knowing why he was doing so on national television. No one seemed to understand why he was there, and that would probably be reflected in his poll numbers if he weren’t already polling at zero percent.