Presidential races

5 takeaways from a fiery Sanders-Clinton clash in Brooklyn

The debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in Brooklyn on Thursday was fiery from beginning to end.

It was the ninth clash between the candidates and the final one before Tuesday’s New York primary, where 291 delegates are at stake.

{mosads}But, as the dust settles, what did we learn?

This time it’s personal

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders don’t like each other. 

To be sure, there were substantive exchanges on Thursday night, but the dominant impression left was one of real and deep enmity.

Sanders went at Clinton from the get-go and didn’t let up. In the debate’s opening moments, he reiterated his earlier statements that he doubted Clinton’s judgement. But things got much more abrasive from there, with Sanders often using sarcasm as his weapon of choice as a stony-faced Clinton looked on.

One memorable moment came when Clinton said she had been willing to criticize Wall Street during her time as a senator.

“Secretary Clinton called them out. Oh my goodness, they must have been really crushed by this,” a withering Sanders said. “And was that before or after you received huge sums of money [for] giving speaking engagements?”

Later, when Clinton was asked about her campaign’s suggestion that many guns on the streets of New York had come from Sanders’s home state of Vermont, she began to answer only for her rival to laugh audibly.

“It’s not a laughing matter,” the former secretary of State retorted.

One thing is for sure: It seems an eternity since Sanders sprang to Clinton’s defense over her email controversy at their first debate in Las Vegas. In fact, that was just six months ago.

Sanders has pushed Clinton to the left — sort of 

The scars of Hillary Clinton’s loss to President Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary run deep. She knows better than anyone the danger of getting outflanked by a more liberal candidate who can inspire young Democrats and speak to the yearnings of the party’s progressive base.

She is determined not to let that happen again, and Thursday night’s debate showed that Clinton was willing to move — rhetorically, at least — to try to avoid any such danger.

During the Brooklyn debate, for example, she insisted that she had “supported the fight for 15” — that is, the battle for a $15 per hour minimum wage. Sanders immediately shot back that “a lot of people are very surprised to learn that you supported raising the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour.”

In fact, Clinton has backed a $12 per hour minimum wage while offering more general support for the workers campaigning for the $15 figure.

Later in the debate, she seemed to suggest she was open to lifting the income cap on Social Security contributions.  

Clinton skeptics will argue that she left herself plenty of wriggle room — her actual answer on the income cap was, “That is one way. If that is the way we pursue, I will follow that.”

Still, the mere fact that she feels obligated to make such statements suggests she sees a need to protect her left flank from Sanders. 

Clinton needs to get better at straight answers

The former secretary of State is a formidable debater for the most part, but Thursday was not one of her more impressive showings.

In part that may have been because Sanders came for her so aggressively and because a boisterous crowd seemed to lean — very vocally — in his direction.

But Clinton’s tendency to take refuge in nuance — or, her detractors would say, to provide slippery answers — continues to be a problem.

The response cited above about Social Security was one example. 

Another came when she was asked whether she would apologize for her advocacy of former President Bill Clinton’s 1994 crime bill.

“I’m sorry for the consequences that were unintended and that have had a very unfortunate impact on people’s lives,” came the reply.

Such moments, too clever by half, are not likely to ease doubts in voters’ minds about Clinton’s honesty and authenticity.

Fault lines are opening on Israel and the Palestinians

An extended exchange about Israel and the Palestinians was the most compelling part of an otherwise broadly predictable segment devoted to foreign policy. 

Sanders unapologetically stood by his earlier statements that Israel’s actions in Gaza in 2014 were “disproportionate.” He also complained that in a recent speech by Clinton to the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC, “I heard virtually no discussion at all about the needs of the Palestinian people.”

Clinton held fast to a more orthodox pro-Israel position throughout — which may prove to be the politically smarter move.

Sanders, who would be the first Jewish president if elected, may feel he has more leeway on this issue than presidential candidates in previous years. But it was nonetheless revealing to hear such clear differences on an issue where Democrats often speak with one voice. 

All the fireworks won’t change much

The vigor of the exchanges on Thursday night made for compelling television. And Sanders’s supporters can make a good case that this was one of his best nights on a debate stage since the contest began.

But, at this point, the number of voters whose minds can be changed is limited. Clinton holds a double-digit polling lead in New York and a near-impregnable advantage in the Democratic delegate race.

The fundamental shape of the race won’t shift at this point barring some absolute catastrophe for Clinton — and even her worst moments on Thursday didn’t come anywhere close to that status.

Tags Bernie Sanders Bill Clinton Democratic debate Gun control Hillary Clinton Israel Minimum wage Wall Street
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