I’m calling a victory for Hillary Clinton in the PBS Democratic Debate held last night. She was pitch perfect for 80 of the 90 minutes – before a petty criticism of Sanders not siding with Obama 100% of the time took her off the rails. Here are my top five takeaways.
- The contrast between Sanders and Clinton campaigns, despite the fact that they agree on many issues, came sharply into focus last night. Clinton was able to articulate actual solutions to problems she has identified. Sanders spent much of the debate railing against the status quo, with little detail on how he’d achieve anything he suggests.
- The biggest experience gap showed up (as we expected it to) in foreign policy. Clinton was so articulate she sounded a bit too wonkish in her answers about the middle east and Putin. Sanders’ lack of experience was in clear relief.
- Despite the huge margin in their values and positions, Sanders sounds a lot like Trump. His overwhelming message, while more positive, focuses on the things America needs to fix. He’s “make America great again” for different reasons, to different voters. At some point that’s going to get old. And voters are going to want more.
- Clinton’s strategic move to not attack Sanders directly but portray his promises as impossible to deliver on fared well for 80 of the 90 minutes. To end on a petty criticism, accusing Sanders of criticizing Obama and inferring that it made him unfit to run for the nomination not only fell flat, but gave Sanders an opportunity to again paint himself as an anti-establishment candidate, and turned Clinton’s criticism on him into an incredible attack on the right and responsibility to disagree within the democratic process.
- Clinton needs to learn to apologize. Years of attacks and unprecedented negative focus on her from every candidate in this race, democrat and republican, seems to have left her unable or unwilling to show any weakness. Her glossing over the Steinem/Albright comments last night – that went over so badly with women voters – was a mistake. She should have explained, not only that Albright has been saying the “special place in hell” statement for years, but that in other contexts, particularly business, it works. But that in politics, more factors come into play, and it was a disservice to suggest that women voters would only vote based on gender. Clinton’s inability to show any weakness at all is at the heart of the inauthenticity claim against her. And it’s why it continues to stick.