Brawl in Brooklyn left both Democrats battered and bruised
Feisty encounter between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders sets nasty tone for party
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Their debate was the shouty, testy affair you would expect from a debate in New York. Photograph: Seth Wenig/AP
The Brooklyn Roasting Company served a blend of Sumatran and Ethiopian coffee in the press centre at Thursday night’s Democratic presidential debate in New York. The blend worked but those beans got nothing like the roasting the candidates gave each other.
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders did not blend well for the Democratic cause on their ninth debate stage. Their exchanges will have left a bad taste in the mouths of undecided Democratic voters looking for a stand-out moment for either candidate. There wasn’t any.
It will do little either for the unity of the party come November when voter turnout will be crucial if the Democrats are to win a third term.This week the party and the Clinton and Sanders camps brought a legal action against the state of Arizona over voter access to polls after thousands of people were left waiting as long as five hours to vote in the state’s presidential primary last month. The voters of Arizona may not be willing to wait as long in line after what they saw in Brooklyn.
The candidates played true to their New York roots – her electoral home state and his birthplace – in what could be the last Democratic presidential debate before the party’s convention in July. It should be the last as neither Clinton nor Sanders came out well.
The brawl in Brooklyn was the shouty, testy affair you would expect from a debate in New York. Each candidate was egged on by a boisterous groups of supporters who cheered and booed at will.
The Vermont senator ripped into Clinton’s ties to Wall Street banks and while he did not repeat recent criticism that the former secretary of state was not qualified to be president, he threw a jab that came pretty close: “I do question her judgment.”
“Do we really feel confident about a candidate who says she will bring change in America when she is so dependent on big money interests? I don’t think so,” said Sanders.
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The candidates interrupted and shouted over each other, prompting CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer to intervene at one point: “If you’re both screaming at each other, the viewers won’t be able to hear either of you.” It was all a far cry from the first Democratic debate back in October when Sanders handed Clinton a gift over her email controversy, declaring people were sick of hearing about her “damn emails.” That night, they shared a laugh and a handshake. On Thursday night, they shouted, they prodded and grimaced at each other’s points.
The testiness of the back-and-forth reflected how much is at stake in Tuesday’s primary in New York as they compete for 247 delegates, more than were at stake in any of the previous 37 states and territories.
Sanders needed to build on the momentum of seven wins in the past eight contests and broaden his appeal to have any chance of narrowing Clinton’s lead in pledged delegates but he played largely to his base. His snarky, angry tone contrasted sharply with his campaign’s early idealism. Clinton failed to take the higher road by showing her real concern was beating Donald Trump or whichever Republican wins, and not on the one-time long shot she has been unable to knock out.
Sanders dragged her left, leaving her squirming to qualify her past positions with her new ones in this campaign and to defend her husband’s policies where it suited and apologise for them when it didn’t. Lots of explaining, lots of losing.
Republicans made hay after the slugfest.“They’re gouging each other’s eyes out,” said Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee – a bit rich from a party where taunts about penis size and the looks of candidates’ wives are considered fair game.