News from the Votemaster
The second Democratic debate is in the books and once again, the contrast with the Republican debates was striking. Though Hillary Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Martin O'Malley certainly locked horns many times, they were also careful to be polite, largely avoiding direct personal attacks and making regular use of phrases like "I must respectfully disagree." When the camera cut from whomever was speaking to one of the other candidates, it was clear the others were actually listening to what was being said. The debate was also more substantive from a policy standpoint than what we have seen on the other side of the aisle. Consider, for example, that the three Democrats mentioned the Republican Party a grand total of four times, and the party's candidates only once (a single remark about Donald Trump; see below), but they referenced the Glass-Steagall Act 11 times. Pretty wonky. Whether the different characters of the debates reflects something about the respective parties, or something about the personalities of the candidates, or simply the difference between having eight candidates on stage versus having three is hard to say.
As expected, Friday's attacks in Paris led the discussion, occupying the first 36 minutes of the two hours allotted for the event. In the early going, Clinton stumbled a little, but she regained her footing and put forward a clear statement of how she would approach ISIS as president. Using words that were obviously chosen very carefully, she declared that ISIS "cannot be contained, it must be defeated." This was a none-too-subtle critique of President Obama, who—in a badly-timed interview given on Thursday—opined that ISIS had indeed been contained. The former secretary of state also made certain to assert several times that "this cannot be an American fight," and that it will be necessary to partner with other nations to defeat ISIS. She is surely right about this, though saying so is generally not as satisfying to voters as talk of sending in bombs and "boots on the ground" and drones.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Martin O'Malley held their own in this portion of the debate, using strong language in condemning the "barbarism" and "ruthlessness" of ISIS. They were able to make Clinton squirm a bit when they tried to pin her down on her vote, as senator, to invade Iraq. She managed to avoid taking too much damage, however, arguing that (1) terrorists were attacking the U.S. well before the Iraq War, and (2) present-day problems in Iraq are due, in large part, to weak leadership by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Once Clinton fully hit her stride, she was able to demonstrate her vastly greater expertise in foreign policy—speaking very specifically and with great precision while the other two candidates tended to speak in broad strokes. This exchange, for example, is illustrative (transcription from the Washington Post):
Sanders: The Secretary's obviously right. It is enormously complicated. But here's something that I believe we have to do as we put together an international coalition, and that is we have to understand that the Muslim nations in the region—Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Jordan—all of these nations, they're going to have to get their hands dirty, their boots on the ground. They are going to have to take on ISIS...
Clinton: Well, I think—I think that is very unfair to a few you mentioned, most particularly Jordan, which has put a lot on the line for the United States, has also taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria, and has been, therefore, subjected to threats and attacks by extremists themselves.
I do agree that in particular, Turkey and the Gulf nations have got to make up their minds. Are they going to stand with us against this kind of jihadi radicalism or not? And there are many ways of doing it. They can provide forces. They can provide resources. But they need to be absolutely clear about where they stand.
Once the attacks in Paris had been addressed, the candidates moved on to domestic issues. The debate's theme was "the economy," and so banking, Wall Street, the minimum wage, and income inequality got most of the attention. However, there was also a bit of time for immigration reform, race relations, and campaign finance reform. Reportedly, Bernie Sanders' staff was unhappy with the shift to a foreign policy focus, though the Senator himself said the issue was overblown. Whatever the case may be, he was much more in his element when discussing domestic issues, returning to his oft-repeated themes of income inequality, poverty, and Wall Street's undue political influence. He was clearly ready for most of the questions he got in this part of the debate. For example, when asked exactly how much he planned to increase taxes on the rich, Sanders had one of the lines of the night, declaring: "We haven't come up with an exact number yet, but it will not be as high as the number under Dwight D. Eisenhower, which was 90 percent... I'm not that much of a socialist compared to Eisenhower."
Martin O'Malley also did very well in the domestic policy portion of the debate. He particularly scored points during the discussion of immigration, denouncing "that immigrant-bashing carnival barker Donald Trump" and declaring that "Our symbol is the Statue of Liberty. It is not a barbed-wire fence." Further, for someone who is ostensibly auditioning for the vice presidential slot on the Democratic ticket, O'Malley proved surprisingly willing to challenge Hillary Clinton, doing battle with her on numerous occasions. Perhaps he has decided that an assertive Vice President has more appeal than a milquetoast Vice President.
Clinton was largely effective during the discussion of domestic policy, though not as strong as the other two candidates, with chinks in her armor showing themselves on a pair of occasions. One of those came during the aforementioned discussion of Glass-Steagall, which put her in a difficult position, since it was her husband who championed the Act's repeal. The other came when moderator John Dickerson asked how Clinton could reconcile the political contributions she has gotten from Wall Street during her career with her pledge to rein in Wall Street. Her answer to the question included the biggest blunder of the night by any candidate, when she attempted to deflect the criticism by bringing up her role in helping to rebuild New York City after the 9/11 attacks. This did not go over well, judging by the response on Twitter. "Clinton mentioning 9/11 in the context of defending the banks is a cheap political trick. That's a Republican move," said one Democratic commenter, while another wrote, "Wow. Hillary Clinton using 9/11 to deflect and justify millions in campaign contributions from Wall Street firms. Gross." Clinton was able to squeeze in her most popular line of the evening at the end of that response, declaring that "I'm very proud that for the first time a majority of my donors are women, 60 percent." However, the damage—however extensive it may prove to be—was already done.
Dickerson and the other moderators received high praise for their handling of the debate. Finding a path between losing control (as CNBC did) and just lobbing softballs (as Fox Business News did) wasn't easy, but Dickerson pulled it off well. The candidates were rarely allowed to run roughshod over their time limits, or to dodge questions. The moderators were clearly very well prepared, and Dickerson was often shown referring to the copious notes he took in preparation for the evening. He was also nimble on his feet; for example, when Bernie Sanders tried to seize the stage to rail against Wall Street, Dickerson cut him off and got a good laugh making light of the irony of the situation: "We are going to talk about Wall Street, but now we've got to go do a commercial." CBS is scheduled for one of the remaining Republican debates (February 13); it will be interesting to see if Dickerson draws the assignment.
Getting all your facts straight for two hours under intense questioning is tough for anyone, and the candidates made a few misstatements. Here is a list of the misstatements:
- Sanders: American is last in child poverty. (In the 2014 OECD study it is 36 out of 41)
- O'Malley: $10.10 was the highest minimum wage I could get. (But it won't get there until 2018)
- Clinton: I will be tougher on Wall Street. (But she is against reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act)
- Clinton: Most of my donations are small. (It is true, but most of her money is from big donors)
- O'Malley: Reagan's top tax rate was 70%. (True, but he inherited that and lowered it to 28%)
- Clinton: The 2001 AUMF which was used to invade Afghanistan covers fighting ISIS. (It is arguable)
- Sanders: The U.S. has 5,000 nuclear weapons. (Actually it has 7,100)
While it is better to get everything right all the time, these are small potatoes compared to some of the statements made during the Republican debates, such as these claims.
- Huckabee: Eliminating the income tax would stop outsourcing.
- Christie: Democrats plan on raising tax rates to 70 or 80 percent.
- Santorum: We don't give people a reason to marry.
- Bush: Christians are being beheaded in Lebanon.
- Trump: TPP was designed to have China come through the back door.
- Rubio: We have too many philosophers and not enough welders.
None of these positions are even remotely true. See this page for the details.
Summing it up, everyone in Iowa tonight had a fairly good evening. Voters who care more about foreign policy are likely to give Hillary Clinton the nod, those who care more about domestic issues are going to be happier with Bernie Sanders or Martin O'Malley. The former Maryland governor may pick up a few points in the polls, simply because he seemed more like a viable candidate than he did in the last debate, but nothing happened on Saturday night that is likely to dramatically move the needle (Clinton's misstep notwithstanding). That may be the only thing this week's Democratic and Republican debates had in common: They both affirmed the status quo. (Z & V)
A survey by the Associated Press of the Democratic superdelegates shows that Hillary Clinton has 359 already locked up compared to 8 for Bernie Sanders and 2 for Martin O'Malley. The remaining 210 superdelegates are officially uncommitted so far. This means that Clinton already has 15% of the total needed to win the nomination before the first vote is cast.
The 210 "uncommitted" superdelegates may not really be uncommitted. Some of them may just feel it is inappropriate to support a candidate in public until their states' voters have had their say. Given the huge edge Clinton has on the superdelegates who have taken a position, most likely she has an equally huge edge among the other 210. After all, these are public and party officials, not low-information voters barely paying attention to politics. All of them know both Clinton and Sanders very well and don't need a few more debates to figure out whom they like more. Most or all of them know already, but just don't want to say for various reasons. (V)
The optimists among us would have preferred that the Paris attacks be kept out of the political realm for at least a short while—perhaps until the bodies are buried?—but it was not to be. On the Democratic side, circumstances—specifically, the scheduling of the second Democratic debate—forced the candidates' hands. In the half-hour-plus spent on the subject Saturday night, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Martin O'Malley were all in basic agreement that the U.S. can't stamp out ISIS alone, and that the next President will have to work intensively with other countries, exchanging information, technologies, and more. To the extent that they disagreed, it was on the degree of American involvement that will be necessary. Whether or not the three candidates would have left the issue alone for a few days had there been no debate scheduled is something we will never know for sure.
Meanwhile, on the Republican side, much of the commentariat has seized upon the incident—sometimes gleefully—to make their various political points. Ann Coulter slammed campus liberals and asserted that the attacks would propel Donald Trump to the presidency. Newt Gingrich asserted the need for concealed carry gun permits. Michelle Malkin blamed Barack Obama. Actors Rob Lowe and James Woods both suggested that things like this happen when a country doesn't secure its borders.
Nearly all of the GOP's presidential candidates also got into the act, issuing statements and making declarations on Saturday. Like Lowe and Woods, Mike Huckabee pointed the finger at immigrants, while also asserting that the attacks are proof that the United States needs to cancel the nuclear treaty with Iran (showing an apparently lack of awareness that, in fact, Iran wants to join the anti-ISIS coalition). Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) similarly blamed unchecked immigration, and used the occasion to slam Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) for his unwillingness to support tighter border controls. Rubio, for his part, released a fairly restrained video (by his hawkish standards) in which he called the attacks "a wake up call" and a "clash of civilizations." Like Gingrich, Donald Trump went with the "if only the victims had been armed" argument. Ben Carson issued forth with a Carson-like response, explaining that, "I would be working with our allies, using every resource known to man: in terms of economic resources, in terms of covert resources...military resources...things-that-they-don't-know-about resources...not to contain them, but to eliminate them, before they eliminate us."
Unsurprisingly, the strongest declarations came from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Appearing on Fox and Friends on Saturday, he declared that, "I recognize that Barack Obama does not wish to defend this country." In a speech at Bob Jones University later in the day, the Senator laid much of the blame for the attacks on Syrian refugees, despite any evidence whatsoever that this was the case. He also posted a statement to his website in which he called for more bombing accompanied by a greater acceptance of civilian casualties. He did not explain precisely who or what he would bomb.
Time has a compact overview of the Republican candidates' stands on ISIS, observing that they are all critical of Barack Obama, and that they all promise to be more aggressive and to win, but that nearly all are vague on precisely what they would change about the United States' current approach. Perhaps greater clarity will come as the field narrows, or as the GOP nominee is compelled to confront the Democratic nominee. Whatever the case may be, this chapter of the campaign is just beginning; we can expect this subject to be a major part of the discussion for months, perhaps right up to Election Day. (V & Z)
The Republicans' dream of repealing and replacing Obamacare may happen in Colorado in 2016—only not quite the way they had hoped for. A citizens group is endeavoring to take advantage of a provision in the Affordable Care Act to allow states to opt out and try something on their own. A ballot measure to introduce a single-payer health insurance system like the one used in Canada has qualified for the 2016 election ballot. Money to finance the system would come from a new payroll tax that is estimated to bring in $25 billion per year. Employers will pay 2/3 of that and employees 1/3. The initiative would reduce administrative expenses by creating a much simpler system. If it passes, Colorado would be the first state to adopt such a system. (V)Email a link to a friend or share:
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