#DemDebate Reax

The “Reax” title, and post structure – a roundup of reactions to a significant political or cultural event – was one of my favorite recurring features of The DishThis is my humble attempt to create something similar. Enjoy. 

democratic-candidates-debate-cnn
No, yes, yes, meh, no.

Michelle Goldberg at DoubleX thinks that regardless of winners and losers, Senator Sanders is having a big effect on the conversation:

Thanks to Bernie Sanders, Tuesday night’s Democratic debate included a brief argument about socialism versus capitalism that was completely without red-baiting. It was at the start of the event, when Anderson Cooper questioned the candidates about what he took to be their greatest weaknesses. “How can any kind of socialist win a general election in the United States?” he asked Sanders, who launched into an unabashed defense of Scandinavian-style social democracy…

…The remarkable thing about this exchange is that capitalism itself, rather than the quixotic senator from Vermont, was on the defensive. It demonstrated that, whatever else happens, Sanders has already accomplished something profound for American progressives.

Jamelle Bouie at Slate thinks that questions about a Biden run will be few and far between now that Clinton has shown herself to be a strong candidate:

Clinton wasn’t perfect. A more skilled and knowledgeable debater could have challenged (even flustered) her on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Libya, areas where she was allowed to obfuscate previous positions and important details to avoid scrutiny. In a hypothetical debate against Marco Rubio, for instance, she could have trouble. But broadly, Clinton excelled in the forum. Democrats shouldn’t worry. And if Democrats aren’t worried, there’s no reason for Biden to run.

Jonathan Chait also thinks that Clinton had a reassuring night, both for herself and for Democratic primary voters:

She is not great at politics, as even many of her supporters concede. (Earlier today, Glenn Thrush and Annie Karni reported, “Nearly every one of 50 advisers, donors, Democratic operatives and friends we interviewed for this story thought Clinton was a mediocre candidate who would make a good president, if given the chance.”) But she is not as awful at it as she has appeared for most of 2015. After the debate, she again resembles what she appeared to be at the campaign’s outset: the all-but-certain Democratic nominee.

Charles D. Ellison at The Root agrees that a Biden run remains an abstract concern, especially after last night and has seven other takeaways from the Democratic debate, including how #BlackLivesMatter matter influenced the event and the whole primary:

Black people were not at the moderator table. And, they don’t have a candidate in this primary cycle, either. But, their issues were rather pervasive during this debate, with candidates now forced to submit to Black Lives Matter litmus tests or end up like Jim Webb, stumbling into an abyss of electoral nothingness for saying, “All lives matter,” instead. Candidates were flowing like experts on criminal-justice reform and inequality issues while even topics like “institutional racism” got top mentions. But, it’s still a balancing act: in case you missed it, there was that passing moment when Clinton didn’t exactly say the words “Black lives matter” even as she shouted down racism and inequality. With a late-summer Rasmussen poll showing only 31 percent of black voters identifying with the BLM movement, candidates may be playing this a lot more cautiously than some expect—and others would like.

Jonathan Martin at the NYTimes jumped on the Clinton-had-a-great-night bandwagon, touting how much her and her supporters were feeling good the next day:

Mrs. Clinton’s backers here were elated, making the case that her authoritative performance offered an unspoken rejoinder to those Democrats calling for Mr. Biden to make a late entry into the race. “I think that kind of cemented it,” said Representative Dina Titus, Democrat of Nevada. “She said, ‘I’m a progressive who can get things done.’ That’s the perfect combination that we need.”

On The Daily Beast today, Will Rahn and Jackie Kucinich really took the Clinton pumping to new pop culture heights:

Like Daenerys Targaryen, the warrior queen of Game of Thrones, Hillary Clinton moved in on her opponents Tuesday night, reminding them one by one why she will ultimately rule. All this Khaleesi was missing, it seemed, was her three hungry dragons.

Sam Stein and Amanda Terkel at HuffPo were a little surprised that Clinton was so aggressive in attacking Sanders on gun safety:

But the truly defining segment dealt with guns, perhaps Sanders’ biggest vulnerability in the Democratic primary. Clinton previewed her attack a few weeks ago when, among the series of proposals she unveiled after the Oregon mass shooting, she called for ending legal immunity for gun manufacturers — something Sanders voted for as a congressman. And once the topic surfaced at the debate, she pounced.

“For this immunity provision, I voted against it,” Clinton said. “I was in the Senate at the same time. It wasn’t that complicated to me. It was pretty straightforward to me that he was going to give immunity to the only industry in America.”

William Saletan thinks that the Republican party needs to come up with a response to the Democrats’ new message about the economy:

Republicans say free-market policies produce economic growth. In the debate, the Democrats argued that this method of judging the economy, through aggregate statistics, is inadequate. “You can have all of the growth that you want,” said Sanders, “and it doesn’t mean anything if all of the new income and wealth is going to the top 1 percent.” Clinton, Sanders, and Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland, focused instead on stagnant middle-class incomes. They accused trade agreements of failing to raise wages or create good jobs in the United States. You can question their conclusions. But their standard of evaluation—looking at the distribution of wealth and income, not just the amount—is intuitively sound.

Not everybody thinks Clinton won the debate. Russell Berman acknowledges Clinton’s strong performance, but believes Sanders may get the bigger bounce from the debate:

Yet while Clinton has tacked to the left in the face of Sanders’s rise, the debate laid bare a fundamental difference in their candidacies: He is the change candidate, and she is not. Clinton embraced Obama’s record, promising to “build on” and “go beyond” his economic achievements. Yet as my colleague Peter Beinart noted, Sanders promised a “political revolution,” making a clean break with the status quo. If this is the year of the political outsider, one in which Donald Trump and Ben Carson are confounding the establishment with their strength in the polls, then it would make perfect sense for Sanders to similarly defy the conventional wisdom with a post-debate bounce.

Byron York catalogues both mild and strident animus towards Clinton among some students watching the debate:

Before the debate, as students came in, the organizers gave each a clear plastic bead. The idea was that after the debate, there would be a jar for each candidate, and people would put their beads in the jar of the candidate they thought won the debate. Not everybody voted, but when it was all over, Bernie was the big winner, with 139 votes. O’Malley came in second with 67 votes.

And Hillary? Just 17 votes. Out of a total of 233 cast, Clinton won just 17 votes. (Webb and Lincoln Chafee got five apiece.) This is just a guess, but even if O’Malley had not received some favorite-son support, Clinton wouldn’t have benefited. She just doesn’t excite them. Bernie was the man before the debate, and he remained the man after the debate.

Vox has a nice roundup of focus groups, which say Sanders won the night, but not because of substance, alas:

At least one focus group, Fusion’s, made an effort to get participants talking about the issues. In response to the young man who accused Clinton of being “too calm,” Fusion played the clip of Clinton attacking Sanders on guns, which prompted an issue-focused discussion about gun control. But while the participants had articulate (and deeply felt) opinions, as often as not, that wasn’t how they evaluated the candidates.

In the eyes of the focus groups, Bernie Sanders won for doing exactly what he scolded Hillary Clinton for doing the one time she tried it. Sanders and Clinton supporters alike should hope that isn’t how most of the Democrats who watched the debate are making their decisions about who won.

Harry Cheadle at Vice still thinks Sanders wins on policy, not just style:

Meanwhile, Sanders remained the most interesting candidate in the race. He never made politics personal the way Clinton did when talking about her mother or her childhood, or the way the other candidates did when speaking about their kids. Though he had some verbal stumbles and talks like a man who has a bus to catch, his message is relatively simple: American politics has been corrupted by money, resulting in massive income inequality and a government that struggles to provide basic services for its citizens. His supporters love the purity of that message, and the way that Sanders is not afraid to advocate for unpopular positions like single-payer health care. Clinton framed herself as a “progressive who gets things done”; Sanders wants to be the guy leading a revolution.

Josh Marshall at TPM saw evidence of Sanders’ strong showing, but still thinks Clinton had a bigger night:

Hillary’s favorability numbers also went up, but not dramatically. Where you see the difference is on candidate preference where her support shot up a lot. She took some support from Sanders, but not much. Where she got most of her support was from people who’d been supporting Joe Biden (obviously not even in the race) and people who’d moved into the undecided column. Another way to put this is that she managed to consolidate her natural support which had frayed considerably over the months of pillorying over the email stories. As I said, she did very well and expect this performance to drive her poll numbers a lot.

And Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight agrees Clinton had a fine night, but that it only looks big because the media had so dramatically underestimated for months:

From our vantage point, then, declaring a “Clinton comeback” is a bit like declaring Tom Brady or LeBron James to be the comeback player of the year. Clinton didn’t have anything to come back from; she was winning the nomination race before last night’s debate — by a lot.

The Advocate saw a clear winner for the night in moderator Anderson Cooper:

there is a consensus among many media critics as to the real star of the night: moderator Anderson Cooper.

The out CNN anchor and broadcast journalist of more than 20 years was praised by critics for his work asking questions of the five most prominent Democrats running for president, including the two leading the polls, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

I agree that, other than a couple odd moments, Cooper was a strong moderator and asked solid, substantive questions. There is legitimate criticism of Cooper’s honeymoon comment to Sanders as well as plenty of folks remarking on the tokenism of who CNN had ask what questions.

From my perspective, having had some more time to think (and less to drink) than my first take, here are my final thoughts on the first debate:

  • A Joe Biden run was never a good idea, and now it seems utterly pointless. I hope he goes out at the top of his game as VP and does not get into the campaign, which will inevitably rob him of the rosy lens with which many Americans and the media now view him.
  • I really appreciate how open the Democratic party is, but there is no reason to invite Chafee or Webb to another debate. Neither candidate has measurable support nor anything innovative to add to the proceedings. And anyway Jim Webb is a bit creepy.
  • A Clinton/Sanders ticket is, I hope, a possibility. Sanders won points from pundits and viewers for the strength and sheer volume of his approach – and that would make him a great VP nominee on the trail. I’m trusting you, Vermont, to put another progressive in that Senate seat if this happens.
  • I am more irritated than ever at the poor media treatment and blatantly sexist views of Clinton, her career, and her campaign. And that will need to be its own article.

What did you think about the #DemDebate, or any of the editorials linked here? Sound off in the comments or send an email.

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