Thursday night’s Democratic debate was at times intense. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton met one-on-one for the last time before voters go to the polls in New Hampshire on Tuesday. There is an enormous difference in the dynamics of a debate when it comes down to two candidates. There’s nowhere for the candidates or the moderators to go except to the pair of individuals on stage. There’s no ability to play off a third or fourth party—all the attacks are on you, and your fire is directed in only one direction.
Both candidates did well this evening. What struck me was the difference in how each went after the other. Sanders went after Clinton on her $675,000 in paid speeches to Goldman Sachs. The calls for Clinton to release the transcripts of those talks will continue ad infinitum. If she doesn’t figure it out, Goldman Sachs could become Hillary Clinton’s Bain Capital.
When the continuing issues surrounding Clinton's email accounts came up, Sanders refused to pounce, only after loudly stating that he wouldn’t make a political issue of her troubles. But Clinton is still, nearly a year later, still tied up in knots over how to answer the issues of her email and whether or not she received and/or transmitted classified material.
That she is now discussing the process by which information is deemed classified, and relying on references to former Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice illustrates Clinton's unwillingness or inability to accept responsibility for making a bad decision. Clinton’s weaknesses tonight were what they always are: self-inflicted wounds brought on by poor judgment and a belief that she doesn’t play by the rules to which others must adhere.
For Sanders, he was extremely week on national security. This is not surprising as he’s been a democratic socialist senator from Vermont. At times, when discussing ISIS, Iraq, and Afghanistan, he was shaky and seemed unprepared. Clinton can name the leaders of Middle Eastern countries and quote chapter and verse Barack Obama’s foreign policy. And Clinton is correct: Being president is not just pushing domestic programs—commander-in-chief is a huge part of the job.
Sanders is helped, however, by having been a staunch leftist his entire life. His near-purity as a liberal helps in these events: Whether on trade or the death penalty, he knows where he lives ideologically, and where much of the Democratic primary electorate does as well. You could watch Clinton on the other hand, as she talked her way through capital punishment and trade deals she once supported but now opposes, sliding intentionally and purposefully to her left for purely political reasons.
For a Republican watching a Democratic debate, it is impossible to remain completely objective. That Sanders and Clinton had a spirited discussion over the meaning of the word “progressive” (née liberal) and who most qualifies for that label was truly astonishing. For all the talk of the Republican field being out of step with independent voters or being unable to cross over and capture members of the other party, I say the Democrats should spend some time looking in the mirror.
On the whole, I’d say both candidates could leave the debate stage feeling generally good about their performances last night. However, it is clear after watching Sanders and Clinton spar directly that the former secretary of state is the far more experienced and wily pol. She knows how to play the game; she knows the buttons to push and she knows how to rebut attacks while putting the blame on her opponent for even daring to bring up a given issue. Her biggest issue will be, as it always is, that she doesn’t have passion on her side. She’s got to use every last bit of energy she has to convince Democrats that it's not just worth supporting her, but also leaving the house on a snowy Tuesday morning to actually vote for her.
A veteran public affairs and political professional with more than 15 years experience, Reed
has been in politics and public affairs for nearly 20 years. Since 2011, Galen has been the
owner of Jedburghs, LLC – a full service public affairs, public relations and political
consultancy that focuses on providing boutique service to its clients.
Galen has spent the last eight years servicing major corporate clients and political campaigns,
advising Fortune 50, 100 and 1000 companies in need of high-level counsel in the fields of
strategic communications, procurement and legislation. In addition to his private sector
work, Reed has managed several high-profile ballot measure campaigns in California and
Colorado – directing all aspects of message development and voter contact.
Before moving to the private sector, Reed served as Deputy Campaign Manager for John
McCain’s presidential campaign and Deputy Campaign Manager for Arnold
Schwarzenegger’s successful 2006 re-election campaign.
Prior to his move to California, Galen worked on both the 2000 and 2004 campaigns of
President George W. Bush’s. Between campaigns, Galen spent a year at the White House
and served the Bush Administration at both the US Department of the Treasury and the
Department of Homeland Security.
In 2014, Galen ran six campaigns in California, including a targeted congressional seat, a
statewide race and four legislative independent expenditures. In addition, he was a debate
coach for newly elected US Senator Dan Sullivan of Alaska.
Reed has had his work published in such outlets as The Orange County Register,
RealClearPolitics and Politico and is regularly a voice on California and national politics in
The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times.