In their New Hampshire debate Thursday night, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton played to entirely different audiences: He spoke directly and forcefully to left-liberal voters of the Live Free or Die State, where he holds a 20-point lead in polling; she spoke to the nationwide electorate at play in November.
Clinton has no expectation of beating the senator from next door Vermont among lefty New Hampshire Democrats; instead, she had to appeal to Granite State Democrats while doing nothing to undercut her viability in places like Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Illinois against whatever right-wing candidate the Republicans nominate.
The perfect example: the death penalty. Asked her position, Clinton made it clear she doesn’t like how it’s implemented with racial bias in various states, but said she supports it in limited cases like the terrorism in Oklahoma City and Boston. And Sanders, alas, to his great liberal credit, is opposed to it.
Dead Duck. That’s enough right there to kill him in a general election.*
And that’s even before he’d be red-baited as a commie, pinko, tax-raising, death-panel-promoting, capitulationist socialist. In ads featuring his own speeches.
Clinton wouldn’t say Sanders is unelectable (which he is) because that would be impolitic. But she warned that while she’s already been vetted, he would face a “withering onslaught.” Which is why his numbers are as good as they are: the Republicans aren’t going to attack him now. They want him to win the nomination so they can destroy him in November.
Rachel Maddow and Chuck Todd moderated the substantive, two-hour debate on MSNBC with great skill — mostly because they stayed out of the way and let the candidates debate, unlike the poseurs on Fox and CNBC, who felt compelled to preen. For Calbuzz, the high point was the moment when Clinton unloaded on Sanders for implying — without ever quite saying it — that she’s on the take from Wall Street because she took huge speaking fees from Goldman Sachs.
“If you’ve got something to say, say it, directly,” Clinton said, looking straight at Sanders. “I think it’s time to end the very artful smear that you and your campaign have been carrying out in recent weeks.”
And when Sanders accused Clinton of being part of the Establishment, Clinton retorted:
“Honestly, Senator Sanders is the only person who I think would characterize me, a woman running to be the first woman president, as exemplifying the Establishment.”
(One crucial point she didn’t make that she should: The women among whom Sanders runs best are all under the age of 45, according to polling. That’s because they don’t remember what it was like before Roe v Wade in 1973 (43 years ago), when abortion was not legal. All of their lives, they’ve never been threatened with losing their freedom of choice. But a Supreme Court appointed by any of the Republicans running would reverse that right — and that’s not something women can risk. Which is another reason to embrace Clinton’s campaign.)
In the end, Clinton helped herself somewhat in New Hampshire and Sanders, just by being in a one-on-one debate with her, was elevated in stature. But he played a short game and she played the long game.
Which was smart.
Here is how we saw the debate in real time, according to our live tweets, in reverse order:
#demdebate Bernie has a lock on the left-wing idealists, but Hillary has a platform for a nationwide campaign that could win the White House
#demdebate Health care, paid med leave, free college — too late for establishment policy and economics, says Bernie
#demdebate Bring your heart and your head when you vote on Tuesday, Hillary says.
#demdate Bernie’s opposition to the death penalty is a fatal stance in a presidential campaign. Makes him a dead duck.
#demdebate Hillary supports death penalty in limited cases. Bernie is opposed. “I don’t believe government should be part of the killing.”
#demdebate Hillary smartly declines to comment on whether Sanders campaign is prone to dirty tricks.
#demdebate stealing HRC data, posing as union workers, implying Nashua paper endorsed him. You losing control of yr campgn? No sez Bernie
#demdebate re email, Bernie says he won’t attack Hillary on the email issue
#demdebate Chuck asks if email issue will explode. HRC says no way…no concerns whatsoever.
#demdebate I’ve been vetted, Hillary says, Bernie will face a “withering onslaught” — as close as she’ll come to saying he’ll get creamed
#demdebate “I will, if nominated, the strongest candidate” Bernie says, because of enthusiasm…He drinks his own Kool-Aid
#demdebate No doubt Putin is really worried about President Sanders
#demdebate On Iran, no normal relations as Bernie wants to move toward — she’s thinking about November
#demdebate Bernie says HRC has more experience in forn policy but he has better judgment — Iraq war vote is evidence.
#demdebate Chuck asks Bernie if forn policy is much of a concern for him — the US cannot do it alone, that’s his policy. Huh?
#demdebate Bernie won’t say what he’ll do as president with 10,000 Americans in Afghanistan.
#demdebate Hillary is speaking to a broader audience than New Hampshire. She’s advancing a general election message, which is smart.
#demdebate Sanders says the business model for Wall Street is fraud…Of course I can work with them, he tells Rachel
#demdebate Hillary says she’ll look into releasing all her private speeches — slight dodge. But Chuck created the issue.
#demdebate Bernie is strong, but when Hillary turned to him and challenged him to put up or shut up, he couldn’t even look at her.
#demdebate Bernie attacks campaign contributions by special interests but doesn’t make charge against Hillary. She is on FIRE in response.
#demdebate Hillary challenges Bernie to end artful smear about speaking fees — if you’ve got a charge, make it, she demands
#demdebate Bernie says HRC is Establishment — HRC says Sanders the only person who’d say woman running 2b 1st woman pres is establishment
#demdebate Bernie admits he hasn’t been a Democrat — but has caucused with Dems — and would change Dem Party, too. HRC cites Howard Dean.
#demdebate Bernie says Obama is a progressive. That’s a switch. HRC repeats she’s a progressive who likes to get things done
#demdebate HRC makes strong defense on “progressive” — not progressive to vote against Brady Bill or Kennedy’s immigration bill she says
#demdebate Bernie says he wouldn’t undo ACA while trying to get single-payer passed
#demdebate Bernie makes strong pitch for universal health care but Hillary says he wants to start all over again w no chance of succeeding
#demdebate Hillary gets in her line on let’s go from 90% to 100% and not start at zero on health — progressive is someone who make progress
#demdebate Racism, sexism, discrimination against LGBT — Hillary adds those issues to Bernie’s economic agenda
* Americans have favored the death penalty by 60% or more for more than 40 years, according to the Gallup Poll.