Hillary Clinton, facing the unexpected challenge from her left flank in the form of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders Sunday, fought furiously to hold her ground as the Democratic frontrunner. With the two candidates virtually tied in Iowa and Sanders leading Clinton in New Hampshire, the former Secretary of State might be having flashbacks to 2008 when a young Sen. Barack Obama from Illinois came out of nowhere and knocked down the inevitable Clinton.
Clinton has been virtually grooming herself to be president since the ’90s, and 2016 appeared to be her year. Who would really give the candidate that seemingly has the backing of the entire Democratic machine a run for her money?
No one expected a 74-year-old Jewish socialist from Vermont to lead a formidable fight against Wall Street and the Democratic empire. Sanders has encapsulated the populist and liberal fires in this country and, with the backing of America’s youth, has lead a surgical campaign against the Washington machine.
This was the most electrifying debate of the election so far. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley was there, but this was a battle between Clinton and Sanders, two black belts of American politics.
These two powerhouse candidates entered the ring, throwing their best punches. Sanders needed an outstanding victory Sunday night. However, Clinton expertly attacked Sanders’ weak points.
This was the Bernie Sanders debate. He brought the most policies to the table, he outlined tax plans and most questions were seemingly directed toward him. Sanders started this campaign with the image of a candidate who wouldn’t be in for the long haul.
With the election starting in two weeks, the debate was focused on America getting to know the Democratic socialist from Vermont. However, Clinton did not allow Sanders to hog the attention, and she expertly defended herself.
The former First Lady did not spend much time appealing to America’s liberals — Sanders won that war. She dug in on centrist policies, appealing to voters who want realism, not idealism. This was a fight over the identity of the Democratic Party.
Gloves Off: Sanders Goes After Clinton’s Relationships with Big Banks
Clinton’s nomination is not inevitable, and any doubters of the power of Sanders’ insurgency simply had to tune in and see the former secretary of state backed into a corner and having to play defense for the bulk of the debate.
Sanders prides himself on not attacking his opposition, and he has mostly stayed away from attacking Clinton directly — let's not forget about the famous “sick and tired of your damn emails” moment.
However, this was the end of Mr. Nice Socialist Guy on Sunday. Sanders launched a full-frontal assault on Clinton’s “cozy” relationship with big banks, specifically Goldman Sachs.
"The first difference is I don't take money from big banks. I don't get personal speaking fees from Goldman Sachs," Sanders unloaded.
Clinton’s relationship with the banking industry has been one of her biggest criticisms from liberals. Sanders’ burn was met with slight applause and a faint boo or two from the audience. The tone of the room was tense.
You could hear a pin drop; the nation’s attention was focused on this exchange. My Twitter feed erupted in disbelief that Sanders made such a targeted attack. Even the moderators stepped back and let the two candidates go at it.
The battle escalated when Sanders suggested Clinton has a corrupt relationship with Goldman Sachs.
“You've received over $600,000 in speaking fees from Goldman Sachs in one year. I find it very strange that a major financial institution that pays $5 billion in fines for breaking the laws, not one of their executives is prosecuted while kids who smoke marijuana get a jail sentence."
Clinton fired back, owning her relationship with Wall Street and invoking President Obama. “Where we disagree is the comments that Senator Sanders has made that don't just affect me, I can take that, but he's criticized President Obama for taking donations from Wall Street, and President Obama has led our country out of the great recession,” Clinton said.
Clinton Amps Up Gun Debate
No intellectually honest person would argue that any of the three Democratic candidates want an unlimited freedom on firearms as most Republicans seemingly do. However, this was a fight on who was the most against unlimited gun freedoms.
Sanders has a solid liberal agenda and has the backing of America’s Democratic base. However, with some of his voting, such as allowing firearms in checked bags on Amtrak, Clinton zeroed in on the one thing she can attack from his left flank.
Clinton doubled-down on her attack on Sanders’ voting record with gun regulations from the last debate. She attacked the Vermont senator for voting against making gun manufacturers legally liable for crimes committed with their weapons.
“He voted for what we call the Charleston Loophole,” Clinton said. “He voted for immunity for gunmakers and sellers, which the NRA said was the most important piece of gun legislation in 20 years ... He voted to let guns go onto Amtrak, go into national parks. He voted against doing research to figure out how we can save lives.”
Sanders defended himself, saying he has a D- rating from the National Rifle Association. “I have supported from day one and instant background check to make certain that people who should have guns do not have guns,” he said. “And that includes people of criminal backgrounds, people who are mentally unstable. I support what President Obama is doing in terms of trying to close the gun show loopholes.”
Sanders Releases “Medicare for All” Plan Two Hours Before Debate
From day one of his candidacy, Sanders has been clear on his rhetoric with healthcare being a right, not a privilege. Sanders failed in bringing a universal Medicare system to his home state but is determined to make it work for the nation.
Right before the debate, Sanders released what he described as a not-very-detailed plan on how he intends to pay for what his campaign estimates as a $1.38 trillion effort.
You can read the full plan here.
The plan introduces some new taxes such as a 2.2-percent income-based premium paid by households and a 6.2-percent income-based premium paid by employers.
There is also progressive taxation:
37 percent on income between $250,000 and $500,000.
43 percent on income between $500,000 and $2 million.
48 percent on income between $2 million and $10 million.
52 percent on income above $10 million
Clinton lashed out on Sanders’ plan, saying the battle for Obamacare was too rough to start over again. “We have accomplished so much already,” she said. “I do not to want see the Republicans repeal it, and I don't to want see us start over again with a contentious debate. I want us to defend and build on the Affordable Care Act and improve it.”
“I certainly respect Senator Sanders' intentions, but when you're talking about health care, the details really matter. And therefore, we have been raising questions about the nine bills that he introduced over 20 years, as to how they would work and what would be the impact on people's health care,” Clinton added.
“He didn't like that; his campaign didn't like it either. And tonight, he's come out with a new health care plan. And again, we need to get into the details. But here's what I believe, the Democratic Party and the United States worked since Harry Truman to get the Affordable Care Act passed.”
Sanders defended himself, saying he doesn’t intend to tear up Obamacare, adding that he helped write it. However, he added that 29 million Americans are still without healthcare and that Obamacare has left a lot of people with huge copayments and high deductibles.
“Tell me why we are spending almost three times more than the British, who guarantee health care to all of their people? Fifty percent more than the French, more than the Canadians. The vision from FDR and Harry Truman was health care for all people as a right in a cost-effective way,” Sanders said.
Clinton also threw a jab at the tax increases: “I'm the only candidate standing here tonight who has said I will not raise taxes on the middle class.”
O’Malley Is Cool, But Overshadowed by the Boxing Match
It’s virtually impossible to stand out when you’ve got Clinton, who represents establishment politics and the backing of virtually the entire Democratic Party, on one side and Sanders, who has captured the imagination of a populist movement, on the other.
Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley put up as much of a fight as he could and served as a good middle point between Clinton’s centrist approach and Sanders’ liberalism.
Other Democratic contenders already got out of the way of the fight for the identity for the party. Remember Lincoln Chafee? Most people seem to want O’Malley to stick around in politics. Perhaps even running for president again come next election. But 2016 simply isn’t his time.
Foreign Policy Will Not Divide the Party
All three candidates agreed on one thing: They do not want a ground war in Iraq or Syria. The presidential hopefuls generally appear to want to continue Obama’s aggressive air campaign and utilize special operations in training missions and raids.
It is safe to assume none of these candidates have plans to deploy conventional troops to fight the Islamic State on the ground.
Outside of healthcare, the candidates agreed on a lot of things. For example O’Malley and Sanders agreeing that minimum wage needs to be $15 per hour.