Clinton sets sights on Republicans in Democrats’ debate

Performance suggests frontrunner may believe party's nomination is within grasp

Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton debate at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. Photograph: Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton debate at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. Photograph: Andrew Burton/Getty Images


In Saturday night’s Democratic debate in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton targeted Republicans more than Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, the challengers standing to her right and left. It was a performance that suggested the front runner may believe the nomination is now within her grasp.

“On January 20th, 2017, the next president of the United States will walk into the White House,” Clinton said in her closing statement. “If, heaven forbid, that next president is a Republican, I think it’s pretty clear we know what will happen.

“Social security, which Republicans call a Ponzi scheme, may face privatisation. Our vets may see the VA hospital that needs to be improved and made better for them turned over to privatisation. Planned Parenthood will be defunded. The list goes on because the differences are so stark.”

Those remarks focused on domestic policy. Though some Republican candidates seized on such issues in their responses to the debate – Jeb Bush tweeted : “Nothing like listening to three Democrats argue about who is going to raise taxes the most” – most focused their fire on Clinton’s statement during the debate on foreign policy that the US was “finally where we need to be” in the fight against Islamic State.

On Sunday, New Jersey governor Chris Christie appeared on ABC’s This Week to discuss his rising fortunes in New Hampshire and was predictably direct in his criticism.

“Oh my gosh,” he said. “With dead bodies in Paris and dead bodies in San Bernardino and no plan, we’re where we need to be? Mrs Clinton is Mrs Happy Talk and she wants to talk her way into the White House. She is the personification of this administration.”

Other candidates, including Bush and Rand Paul, also seized on Clinton’s remark. The only Republican candidate mentioned by name by any of the candidates on stage at Saint Anselm College, however, was frontrunner, Donald Trump. The billionaire was mentioned nine times.

Notably, Clinton called Trump “Isis’s best recruiter”, and claimed the terrorist network was using footage of the real-estate mogul as a recruiting tool.

Trump rejected the claim, on Twitter and Sunday shows.

Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri used an appearance on ABC to argue the candidate had been talking about Isis’s use of social media and not a specific video.

Defending the attention paid to the bombastic Republican frontrunner by his candidate, Mook said Clinton was simply highlighting “what’s at stake in this election”.

“If our next president is a Republican like Donald Trump or any of the rest of the candidates, we’re going to see all the progress that we’ve made on the economy ripped away,” Mook said. “Not one of them has a clear plan to defeat Isis, so she was simply referring to the stakes.”

Saturday’s debate was perhaps the last, best chance for Vermont senator Sanders and former Maryland governor O’Malley to change the dynamics of the Democratic primary.

Both are trailing Clinton nationally, though Sanders and Clinton are in a tight battle in New Hampshire, the crucial early voting state where the debate was held. Even so, the takeaway of the evening was Clinton’s clear attempt to position herself as the party’s inevitable nominee.

In the spin room, Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, sought to dismiss the notion. “She is trying to win every vote,” he said. “She is competing here in New Hampshire where it is obviously very close; she is competing for every caucus-goer in Iowa where we maintain a lead, but I think our first job is to win this nomination.”

Political pundits agreed that the candidates all had strong debate performances, for the first time clearly distilling the key differences between their campaigns.

O’Malley, the only candidate to wander into the spin room, was asked if he thought he had broken through. “Golly, I hope so!” he said.“We got done everything that we wanted to get done. I believe I won the debate because I have always been about getting things done.” – (Guardian service)