The Democratic Debate: Round 9 — A Contest That Nobody Needed


APRIL 15, 2016


Photo: Getty

Thursday’s debate from the Brooklyn Navy Yards was not a good night for Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders or the Democratic Party.

In this first Democratic debate in over a month — and potentially the final one of this campaign — the tone of last night’s contest was a far cry from the civility that marked earlier meetings between Clinton and Sanders.  Last night was loud, combative and at times downright nasty.  It made the previous graciousness with which Sanders let Clinton off the hook about her “damn e-mails” seem like it happened years ago.

Worse, it shed no new light on any subject — it was essentially two hours of the same old-same old we’ve been hearing for the last six months.  Sanders hit Clinton on her Iraq War vote, her coziness with Wall Street, her paid speeches for Goldman-Sachs and on and on.  For her part, she hit Sanders on his support of gun manufacturers and her belief that, though Sanders promises bevy of free benefits (such as college tuition), he has no workable plan to implement them.

The angry tone of the candidates’ exchanges brought out the worst in both of them.  Clinton was loud and pointy, never her best look.   And for a candidate who prides himself on running a positive campaign, what could have possessed Sanders to think that withering sarcasm would be a useful tool?  (At one point when Clinton claimed that she “called out” Wall Street bankers, Sanders replied “Oh my goodness, they must have been really crushed by this.  And was that before or after you received huge sums of money by giving speaking engagements?”  Mee-ow.)

I suppose that, by the general consensus that Sanders did not do quite enough to fundamentally shake up the race, Clinton might be considered the winner, but really no one won Thursday night, particularly the Democratic Party.  If a voter was looking for an alternative to Donald Trump and the Republicans, seeing those two angry people on that debate stage might not seem like the most appetizing choice.

One can certainly understand how emotions are riding high at this point in the campaign.  247 Democratic delegates are up for grabs in New York’s primary on Tuesday, and though both candidates will each come away with a hefty chunk of delegates (the Democrats award them proportionally to the voting results), Sanders needs a big win to earn enough delegates to cut into Clinton’s large lead in the delegate count.  While a loss in New York would not be fatal to Clinton’s campaign, it would provide a speed bump on her path to the nomination, not to mention being embarrassing to her to lose the state that she represented in the Senate for eight years.

By the time the New York primary votes are counted Tuesday night, this debate will probably become a mere footnote in the storyline of this campaign.  But it’s not a footnote of which anyone involved should be proud.