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Winners and losers from the 9th Democratic presidential debate

🕐 4 min read

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders debated in Brooklyn, New York Thursday night, the first time the two had stood on the same stage in 36 days. I tweeted. The Fix posse annotated. And I also jotted down some of the best and worst from the night that was. Enjoy!

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Hillary Clinton: Clinton didn’t knock Sanders out. But she definitely won on points. She was ready when Sanders came at her on her judgment for voting for the war in Iraq, noting that the voters of New York as well as President Obama trusted her judgment. She noted, powerfully, that women’s rights had not come up nearly enough in these debates and that Sanders had sought to minimize them as an issue when Donald Trump made his comments about abortion. (Sidenote: That was Clinton’s best moment of the night, reminding people watching that her campaign to be the first female presidential nominee for a major party was both historic and unique.)

Most importantly, Clinton drove home — again and again — the idea that Sanders talked a good game but couldn’t back it up. “It’s easy to diagnose the problem,” she said at one point. “It’s harder to do something about the problem.” That’s her broader argument in this race — what Sanders says sounds nice but can’t be done — and she did yeoman’s work in making sure anyone watching understood that.

No, she wasn’t perfect in the Brooklyn debate. Clinton continues to be evasive and unconvincing when it comes to her refusal to release the transcripts of her paid speeches to Goldman Sachs. The idea that the Republicans running for president need to release any paid speeches they gave before Clinton will do the same is a cop out. Period.

But, Clinton came into the debate ahead in New York and the race more broadly. Nothing that happened on Thursday night will change that.

WaPo’s Fact Checker: I already knew how good the Fact Checker blog — run by Glenn Kessler with an assist from the terrific Michelle Lee — was. But, the two candidates are clearly paying a lot of attention to how many Pinocchios this dynamic duo is giving out. From fossil fuels to the Clinton’s claim about guns in Vermont to Sanders not releasing his tax returns, the candidates just kept citing the Fact Checker. In the words of Charlie Sheen “winning.”

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Bernie Sanders: Let’s start with what Sanders did well in the Brooklyn debate: He effectively portrayed himself as the candidate of big ideas and Clinton as a seeker of half-measurers, full of caution. And, if you came into this debate liking Sanders, you left it loving him.

Now, to what he did wrong: The sarcasm. He was dismissive to the point of danger, politically speaking, on a number of occasions.

Whoever told Bernie to go relentlessly angry and negative gave him very, very bad advice. He’s come this far because of his inspiration.

Why? I doubt it was any sort of strategy on the part of Sanders but rather a reflection that he has been running against Clinton for a long time now and is sick of listening to her talking points. Regardless of the reason, Sanders isn’t going to win over many converts with that sort of approach to Clinton. And, make no mistake, that is what he needs to do going forward. If the race continues on as it has to date, Clinton will be the nominee. It might not be as smooth a path as she and her team imagined but she will win unless Sanders can start changing hearts and minds. Sarcasm isn’t the way to do that.

The audience: I have been on the record in favor of live audiences at political debates. And I’ve even written favorably about audiences getting a little rowdy — or at least somewhat actively involved in the back and forth between the candidates. I am now officially flip-flopping. The Brooklyn audience was so over the top, so bent on cheering for their preferred candidate no matter what he or she said that it made it hard to watch and listen to the debate at times. I said aloud several times during the debate “Can everyone quiet down?”; I was sitting alone in my home office at the time.

Yelling: I suppose, technically, yelling should be in the “winners” category since there was so much of it. But, it’s my blog so I am putting it as a loser. It felt as though the entire first hour of the debate was Clinton and Sanders shouting at each other. Not great.

Nuance: Debate are where nuance goes to die. On fracking. On the Middle East. On just about every issue, the grey areas present in all of these issues were lost amid opposition research dumps and each side looking for an opening to pry at in a future 30-second TV ad. The Lincoln-Douglas debates these are not.

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