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Finally, a first: this time just former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders debating. It was a debate that focused far more on actual policy than the Republican debates, which have often evolved into zingerfests and insultfests. But just as Republicans have gotten fixated on “conservative” as a label that seems (to them) to be intrinsically superior, Sanders and some Democrats are now focusing on “progressive” (once upon a time “liberal,” until Republicans successfully made it a sneering put down label). Clearly, in both parties the worst insult now is to call someone “moderate.”

Here’s a cross-section of coverage and reaction to the debate:
The New York Times:

With four days until the New Hampshire primary, Senator Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state, faced off in their first one-on-one debate of the Democratic primary cycle. These were the highlights:

• Hillary Clinton used her opening statement to agree with Bernie Sanders about the rigged economy and a corrupt campaign finance system, but she also added an additional focus on racism and sexism by saying “how we treat people as opposed to how we want to be treated.”

• She closed with a line that her campaign has been using to try to paint Mr. Sanders as simply an idealist: “I’m not making promises that I cannot keep,” Mrs. Clinton said.

• The first substantive disagreement between the two candidates was about health care. Mrs. Clinton said that while there’s no disagreement with her competitor on the desire for universal health care, she disagreed with him on “where we start from and where do we end up.”

• Mrs. Clinton said Mr. Sanders wanted to scrap the Affordable Care Act and start all over again. Mr. Sanders was quick to respond, saying the idea that he would dismantle the health care law is “just not accurate.” He said in the future he hoped to “rally the American people” to achieve health care for all.

• The two candidates spent a long time debating their progressive credentials. Mrs. Clinton said, “I don’t think it was progressive to vote against the Brady bill five times,” or voting against the Ted Kennedy immigration reform. Mr. Sanders responded that he had simply quoted Mrs. Clinton, saying she was a moderate. Mrs. Clinton retorted: “Cherry-picking a quote here or there doesn’t change my record.”

• Mr. Sanders ended the argument by saying they should not debate “definitions” and then stated a canned stump speech line: That he’s the only candidate on stage that doesn’t have a super PAC.

• After they debated what it was to be a “progressive,” the candidates went on to debate what it is to be a part of the “establishment.” In an effort to show that Mr. Sanders doesn’t have the broad support of even the people who know him best, Mrs. Clinton listed all of her supporters and endorsees from Vermont. Mr. Sanders said that those endorsements meant Mrs. Clinton was part of the establishment, and that he represented “ordinary Americans.”

• Mrs. Clinton expressed frustration and a direct criticism at Mr. Sanders for his campaign ads that “by innuendo, by insinuation,” claim Mrs. Clinton has been bought by speaking fees from general interest groups. She called these “smears” by Mr. Sanders.

Washington Post:

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, meeting Thursday night for their last debate before the New Hampshire primary, squared off fiercely on the question of whether the party should strive toward its liberal aspirations or set its sights on the achievable.

The dynamic between the two contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination was far more intense — and far more personal — than it has been in their previous face-offs. That reflected how close their race has become in the wake of a virtual tie in Monday’s Iowa caucuses. The debate was sponsored by MSNBC and the New Hampshire Union Leader.

Clinton used her opening statement to needle the senator from Vermont, who describes himself as a democratic socialist, over what she has contended are unrealistically liberal plans for universal health care, free college and other programs.

“I’m fighting for people who cannot wait for those changes, and I’m not making promises that I cannot keep,” the former secretary of state said.

Sanders replied that a number of European countries had approved single-payer health-care systems. “I do not accept the belief that the United States of America cannot do that,” he said.

As they had at a town hall forum the night before, the two remaining Democratic presidential contenders also squabbled over the modern definition of the word “progressive,” which has become the preferred term for the Democratic left.

“A progressive is someone who makes progress,” Clinton said.

Sanders, who enjoys enormous enthusiasm among the party’s liberal base, continued to make the argument that Clinton is too heavily dependent on those who have financed her campaign and made her personally wealthy. He said that he does “not only talk the talk, but walk the walk. I am very proud to be the only candidate up here that does not have a super PAC.”

Clinton accused Sanders of engaging in a “very artful smear” of her character. She insisted she had never changed her position on any issue based on having received contributions from special interests.

The Post’s Chris Cilliza gave a list of winners and losers from the debate. These are only excerpts, so go to the link to read the entire article:

Winners

* Hillary Clinton: This was not a debate in which Clinton scored a knockout blow. It was one, however, that she won on points. Clinton came out super aggressive in the debate’s first 30 minutes, pushing Sanders back on his heels on, well, everything: Guns, experience, the tenor of the campaign, what it means to be progressive and plenty of other things.
* Two-person debates: There’s a reason that networks try to limit the number of people on stage during these debates. This debate — the first one on one showdown of the 2016 primary season — proved that less is more in debates…
* Split screens: I am on the record as wanting a channel — online would be fine — that runs a split screen the entire time when the candidates are talking.
* Chuck Todd/Rachel Maddow: Moderating a debate for state Senate is hard. Moderating a presidential debate is really tough. Chuck and Rachel did the thing that is both hardest and best for moderators at this level: They let the candidates actually debate….
Losers
* Bernie Sanders: I hesitate to put the Vermont socialist in the “loser” category because he did very little in the debate that will slow his momentum heading into a near-certain New Hampshire win. But, I also hate when analysts and reporters take the easy way out when picking winners and losers. It was a two-person debate; if Clinton won then Sanders, by definition, didn’t win……..
* Democratic National Committee: Remind me again why a) there weren’t more debates on the primary calendar initially and b) those that were scheduled were put at times when no one would watch them?

Go to the link to read the entire piece.
The Daily Beast’s Gideon Resnick:

It was almost as if a switch went off in Hillary Clinton’s brain.
Moments into the first Democratic debate not beleaguered by the presence of Martin O’Malley, Clinton laid into her remaining opponent, Bernie Sanders.
Sanders has tried to paint Clinton, the former secretary of state and first lady, as a representative of the “establishment” he rails against. He often notes, sometimes without using Clinton’s name that she has taken millions in contributions from Wall Street and pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees from banks.
But tonight, after weeks of semi-veiled attacks, Clinton announced she had enough.
“People support me because they know me, they know my life’s work, they have worked with me, and many have also worked with Senator Sanders—and at the end of the day, they endorse me because they know I can get things done,” Clinton said, redefining her “establishment” credentials as an asset.
“Being part of the establishment is in the last quarter having a super PAC that raised $15m from a whole lot of money from drug companies and other special interests,” Sanders quickly retorted.
As soon as the dreaded “e” word was used again, Clinton was ready to pounce, directly pushing Sanders to attack directly if he was going to attack at all.
“It’s fair to really ask what’s behind that comment. Senator Sanders has said that he wants to run a positive campaign, and I’ve tried to keep my disagreements over issues,” she said. “But time and time again by innuendo and by insinuation, there is this attack that he is putting forth, which really comes down to ‘anybody who ever took donations or speaking fees from any interest group has to be bought,’ and I just absolutely disagree with that, senator.”

The Atlantic:

With the New Hampshire primaries just days away, Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders met on a debate stage in Durham on Thursday. In their first one-on-one matchup, the duo seemed determined to illustrate Archilochus’s classic binary between the fox, who knows many things, and the hedgehog, who knows one important thing. Sanders knows that what the country needs—the only thing it needs—is a political and economic revolution. Clinton knows the country needs progressive policies on a range of matters and a pragmatic, realistic strategy to implement them.

That divide was clear from their opening statements, with Sanders immediately jumping to his familiar mantra about a rigged economy and a corrupt campaign-finance scheme. Clinton’s answer was not so laser focused, discussing a general need for the nation to “live up to our values in the 21st century,” and checking off not just the economy, but racism, sexism, and more. This split is not new, of course, but with Martin O’Malley off the stage and out of the race, and the Democratic contest tighter than ever, the division has never been so clear. It led to an unusually interesting debate, with the two candidates frequently addressing each other directly and delving into detail.

At times, it was clear why Sanders’s hedgehog approach has been so popular with many Democrats—the ones who nearly delivered him an upset win in the Iowa caucuses, and the ones in New Hampshire who favor him by some 20 points in polls. That was especially true as they squabbled over who is a true progressive and as Clinton tried to defend her highly remunerative speeches to Goldman Sachs. But at other times, it seemed more like a limitation. Quizzed on foreign policy, Sanders seemed at sea about events overseas.

Kevin Drum, Mother Jones:

As debates go, this one was pretty good. The moderators generally did a good job, allowing the candidates to argue when it made sense, but ending things when it looked like there was nothing useful left to say. This is a lot easier with two people than ten, of course, and also easier when both candidates are relatively civil.

Hillary was more aggressive than I’ve seen her before. He complaint early on that Bernie was slandering her with innuendo and insinuation (and “artful smears”) was tough but, I think, also fair. And I have a feeling Bernie felt a little embarrassed by it. He was certainly careful to pull things back to a civil tone after that. Hillary is not a natural campaigner, but she’s a good debater, and this was Hillary at her pugnacious best.

Obviously foreign affairs are not Bernie’s strong point, but I was still a little surprised at just how poorly prepared he was to say much of anything or to draw much of a contrast with Hillary’s views. Either he really doesn’t know much, or else he thinks his dovish views are losers even among the Democratic base. I won’t pretend that Hillary was a genius on this stuff—almost nobody is on a debate stage—but at least she sounded well briefed and confident.

Political Wire’s Tagean Goddard:

The debate focused entirely on substance and the differences between the candidates. Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders probably agree more than they disagree, but this debate highlighted where they diverge. It was very useful to anyone watching.

Both candidates did a great job. It was an evenly-matched fight but Sanders kept Clinton on the defensive for most of the debate. With the exception of foreign policy, it was primarily fought on Sanders terrain. By that measure, he won. But Clinton also did her best to use everything in her opposition research file against Sanders.

Of their weaknesses, Clinton still hasn’t figured out how to answer the charge that she’s in the pocket of Wall Street. Sanders still hasn’t figured out he needs to come up with a coherent foreign policy view. In the end, the debate was probably a draw.

The real winners were Democratic voters. Anyone who watched learned a lot. It made the Republican debates look like over-produced game shows.

ABC News gave the 7 moments that matter. Go to the link to read the entire article. Here’s the lis (we are completely omitting the text) :

1. Clinton Calls Sanders’ Attack On Campaign Cash An “Artful Smear”
2. Clinton Tries to Shut Down Sanders’ Establishment Argument
3. Democrat vs. Democrat Progressive One-Upsmanship
4. Bernie Sanders Stumbles Through Foreign Policy Answers
5. Hillary Clinton Is “100 Percent Confident” Email Investigation Isn’t Going Anywhere
6. Hillary Clinton’s Dodge On Releasing Speeches
7. Bernie and Hillary’s Mutual Admiration Society

JOE GANDELMAN, Editor-In-Chief
Leave a replyComments (1)
  1. Lorie Emerson February 5, 2016 at 9:00 am

    I was only able to watch part of the debate- Sanders wasn’t great on how he presented foreign policy, but I did agree that we need to be pushing China to deal with North Korea.
    Clinton is in a tough position with her arguments. Obama could pull the idea that he would be able to work with Republicans (we didn’t know then what we know now), Clinton really can’t play that card after repeated investigations and what we have seen over the last seven years. There is no bringing the country together under Clinton that can be sold. She’s also in a bad place with foreign policy over all- and this is where I think sexism does play a part (real or a product of past election experience). If she’s dovish- she’s not ‘strong’ enough to be commander in chief. If she’s hawkish- she pushes away the Dem base. Overall though, I thought she presented much better in this debate.
    I do think if she wants to counter the argument that she’s bought and paid for- she needs to be transparent. Release the speeches. There shouldn’t be any ‘privacy’ in a paid speech by a candidate. Otherwise you have the Romney 48% or the Obama guns & bibles lurking out there. She knew she was running- this isn’t from 30 years ago- and it goes directly to her biggest flaw as a candidate for me. Despite the being in the lime light- I still don’t feel like I know her. I honestly can’t say wether she is dovish or hawkish in her core, or if she chose to portray herself as ‘tough’. Wether she wants to be President to gel Us, or it’s just some ego thing. Her votes on Iran are one example. Often it feels that she’s playing for a general election- and doesn’t pay attention to the fact that her likability ratings are way too low to get moderate Republicans.