The First Democrat Debate

Clinton flips, Sanders rises, while O'Malley fights to be relevant.

Today: First DNC debate

CAL: In our last column, we wrote about John Boehner’s resignation as speaker of the House. Some are using the word “chaos” to describe what followed because of the surprise withdrawal of California Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s bid to succeed Boehner. But Democrats aren’t exactly a model of unity. Your party’s first presidential debate comes as Hillary Clinton’s support among Democratic voters has fallen from 51% to 41% in a week, according to a Reuters/Ipsos Poll. Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is surging in his poll numbers and the size of his crowds. I’d say Democrats have some chaos of their own.

BOB: Polls do not equate to chaos. Yes, Sanders is rising in the polls as Hillary falls, but that is what happens in campaigns. Democrats are not divided over policy. They share the same relevant ideology. Republicans are divided over policy and ideology. They can’t govern, despite controlling the House and Senate.

CAL: Hillary is not a good debater. Most voters see her as cold and unlikeable. She has not debated since the 2008 campaign and has got to be rusty no matter how much she has practiced or how she may have been coached by her husband, who excels at debate. Furthermore, Sanders is expected to bring his A game. He’s a good debater. I should know. I debated him in the ’80s at a forum in Vermont. He is very aggressive and takes no prisoners.

BOB: A piece of advice for Hillary. Be careful not to attack Sanders too brutally. Front-runners should not attack opponents, except for obvious policy differences. All the efforts to humanize Hillary could backfire if she were to come across as mean.

CAL: Agreed. Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley finds himself in a position similar to those lower-tier Republicans who needed a good performance in order to move up to the first tier. Only one did, Carly Fiorina. Since the Democrats don’t have as many candidates as the Republicans, there will be just one tier. O’Malley has rightly complained that the Democratic National Committee chair, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, is limiting the number of debates in order to protect Clinton. O’Malley must successfully take on both Sanders and Clinton. It’s hard to see how he gets to the left of either of them.

BOB: O’Malley has a point. Six debates are too few, but in the 2012 contest there were too many debates, especially among Republicans. Fewer debates are an asset for a front-runner, so I understand why O’Malley feels the DNC wants to protect Hillary. Many people in government and interest groups have a big stake in Hillary becoming president. O’Malley should just accept that as reality.

CAL: I wish the questioners included a conservative journalist as in the last GOP debate. It would give the event more credibility. Clinton should not be allowed to get away with saying the reason she has flipped on so many issues is because she has “evolved.” She may believe in evolution, but not even a fish out of water has flipped as much as she has — from same-sex marriage to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. She held off until recently her insincere opposition to the Keystone pipeline (which many labor unions support) and has begun lightly criticizing President Obama on foreign policy in the Middle East and with Russia, a policy with which she was identified as secretary of State.

BOB: I’ll concede Hillary has moved on a number of issues, but there’s a strategic reason for that. She can’t concede the entire liberal base of the Democratic Party to Sanders, so she needs to appear philosophically close to him. Hillary has a better chance of winning a national election than Sanders, but she doesn’t want to destroy him because she will need his supporters. The truth is there is great similarity between the voting records of Sanders and Clinton when she was in the Senate.

CAL: I’d like the CNN questioners to make her come clean on Benghazi and her private email server. She has had several contradictory positions on these when documents released by the State Department under a lawsuit show she either wasn’t telling the truth, or shaded the truth to make herself look innocent. I’m betting many Republicans will be watching this debate, just as Democrats may have been secretly watching the two previous GOP debates, to see if the politically liberal panelists practice real journalism.

BOB: Hillary has been asked these questions over and over again, and next week she will appear before Rep. Trey Gowdy’s special committee, which has spent too much time and too much money investigating Benghazi. Add to this House Majority leader Kevin McCarthy’s ill-advised comment about using Benghazi as a political weapon to lower her poll numbers, and I don’t see this as something that will hurt her campaign. Having said that, the email issue is now in the hands of the FBI, and its findings will determine how much damage has been done to her candidacy.

CAL: Then there is the unseen man at this debate — Vice President Biden. Will he or won’t he jump in?

BOB: We agreed previously that he should retire, but it appears he may not take our advice.