A Quick Take on Tonight’s Debate


I think we have two basic questions coming out of this debate – vision for the Democratic party and electability. Nor are these questions distinct. The issue of electability goes to the heart of the vision for the party, since it goes to the root of questions about pragmatism, risk aversion, settling for half or quarter loaves or ending up with nothing. After several of these encounters – after last night and tonight – these basic questions, dividing points seem very clear and well illustrated.

In terms of the debate itself, the first segment was very hot. In part, the pressure of the campaign is boiling over in the exchanges between the two. Campaigns involves hundreds or millions of people, with each candidate as a fulcrum for the directives, hopes, antipathies, aspirations of so many people. The intensity of emotion, pressure, the stakes can be overwhelming. And you could see some of that coming out this evening.

That said, I also think the Clinton camp made a decision to shake things up, to push Sen. Sanders maybe more than he’s used to being pushed. It got intense and kind of personal. But after that first segment both Sanders and Clinton seemed to step back from the tone and budding climate of acrimony. In the remaining segments it was much more similar to the earlier debates.

As I said at the outset, Sanders has the virtue of coherence, a tightly argued, interlocking set of critiques and explanations of what is wrong, how the different parts fit together and what he believes needs to change. There’s very little of that with Clinton. It’s more of a barrage: I’m going to do my best to improve things on each front. I’m also going to protect our gains.

Bernie Sanders is the kind of people I come from. I like the guy a lot. I could explain the various ways. Some negatives and positives. As I said during the debates, I think he’d be cut to pieces in a general election. As a general matter, I think Democrats underestimate the structural challenges to winning the 2016 election with any candidate. And the damage Sen. Clinton has sustained to perceptions of her trustworthiness is a big, big deal in political terms – though I think many Democrats are dishonest with themselves not recognizing the concerted campaign from the right that is behind much of it.

With all that said, though, I’ve become more impressed with her over the course of the campaign. The hours long Benghazi testimony was a turning point for me – not because of the political optics but because of what it showed me about her steadiness and the depth of her knowledge. She strikes me as a far more seasoned and experienced person than she was eight years ago. In an way that’s hardly surprising. She served as Secretary of State during a critical four years. In all of these debates, when the topic is domestic policy she’s a candidate. When it moves to foreign and national security policy, you can see that’s where she lives. I think that’s clear whether you agree with her or not. The confidence, grasp of a broad range of topics is very clear. The difference in tone is clear.

As I said, the basic divisions – in many ways ones of tone and manner more than policy – seem very clear.

I really have no idea what is going to happen on Tuesday.