Hillary Clinton’s superb debate performance on Sunday showed the country that she is ready to be president. However, what continues to be her problem is that on the campaign trail she just does not seem to connect with the voters like Bernie Sanders.
Clinton was once again showed poise, intelligence and a command of all of the key issues in South Carolina, last night besting Sen. Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley in the last Democratic debate before the Iowa caucus.
This was a battle of the two sides of the Democratic Party, Sanders, the Progressive more liberal member of the party. Clinton the moderate, who is more hawkish on defense and foreign policy while attempting to show loyalty to President Barack Obama, while still showing that she can be her own person.
Clinton’s debating performance is formidable because it combines her intelligence with a sincerity and level of conviction that often seem absent in other forums. When she opened the debate speaking of Martin Luther King Jr.’s role fighting for increased wages, she used his career as a subtle metaphor for what she is pitching: principled leadership with a strong practical bent. That mixture, along with her strength in close-quarter combat and an ability to wrap herself in President Obama’s record—something that played well to the Charleston crowd in the auditorium—was what won her this debate.
Clinton had several strong moments Sunday night. “Ninety people a day die from gun violence in this country,” she noted, before going on to attack Sanders’ record on the Second Amendment, methodically reciting a series of his congressional votes. For some reason Sanders still struggles when pressed on his gun rights votes; he called Clinton “disingenuous” and said that guns “should not be a political issue.” Sanders has run an impressive race and is challenging Clinton in both Iowa and New Hampshire, but Clinton’s ability to bring him to earth and seem like just another politician—his weird, Trump-like quoting of polls tonight didn’t help—is remarkable. (The moderators helped her tonight by making it appear as if Sanders had changed or updated a number of his positions.)
Clinton scored an early direct hit on Sanders over guns. “I have made it clear, based on Senator Sanders’s own record that he has voted with the NRA, with the gun lobby numerous times,” she said, with a long list of votes he had cast. It was brutal, and effective.
But on health care, she couldn’t get the upper hand so easily. Her attack on Sanders falls a bit short because, Clinton points out that because Sanders attempt to pass a single-payer health system (“Medicare for all,” he calls it) would replace the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). That would mean starting all over again. Sanders responded that he’s just strengthening the work that’s already been done. Clinton took heat for her line of attack Sunday night, allowing Sanders a chance to boost his extensive progressive reforms.
Sanders, feels that the nation’s healthcare system needs a complete overhaul and that the single payer system can in the end work. Meanwhile, Clinton, is a realist who understands that working on improving on the Affordable Care Act, will require bipartisan help and she feels that Sanders plan is politically impossible—a point she made effectively on Sunday.
If Democrats couldn’t pass single-payer with a Senate supermajority, how would Sanders do it with a Republican House and, at best, a narrow Senate edge? She knows the limitations of health-care politics better than almost anyone.
Sanders has a great passion for his issues and we will see how he can do in Iowa and New Hampshire as this entire Democratic nominating process. Clinton will likely win in the end but she will be a much better candidate because of her challenge from Sanders.