Column: The Democratic Council of War

Isn’t it just wonderful to watch a debate that doesn’t have a junior varsity event before it for those less fortunate politicians?

The Democratic debate last night in Las Vegas, the first for that Party, was an interesting testing ground for a party with less glitz and glam in the news. It was a chance for the two front runners to strengthen their leads, and for three “unknowns” to get on the map.

But seemingly, those front runners skipped that chance. Seeing as how the debate was in Vegas, one can almost imagine front runners Bernie Sanders (Senator from Vermont) and Hillary Clinton (former Secretary of State) making bets on which Republican nominee will drop out of the race next before going on stage. But these two powerhouses were conservative in their strategies themselves.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
entered the debate as the Democratic
front-runner, and did nothing to impeach
that status

Clinton came in with the pall of scandal over her. In fact, both Lincoln Chafee (former Governor of Rhode Island, a Republican turned Independent turned Democrat) and Jim Webb (former Senator from Virginia), perhaps looking for traction, mentioned corruption and scandal in their opening remarks. Sanders, although having his opening remarks interrupted by applause, tried to appear more moderate. His first question, about whether a Socialist could win in this country, probably set the tone for him for most of the debate. And both the front runners avoided their first questions, and routinely had to be brought back to subjects around which they deftly danced.

For the three more obscure candidates, former Senator Webb put it best: “I’ve been standing over here for about ten minutes waiting.” One almost got the feeling the hosts were trying desperately to involve the other candidates early on. But for these three, they could relax. Their opening remarks were about their lives and family, as they simply tried to establish a personality with the public. And they had their share of tough questions. Webb, of Virginia, appeared to stumble on the question of racism and black lives early on, but recovered later. He still came out the most “Republican” of the Democrats.
Aided by an enthusiastic base, Bernie Sanders
did well in playing to his supporters during the
debate; time will tell if he won over any new

Martin O’Malley (former Governor of Maryland) was similarly tested about his time as Mayor of Baltimore. Chafee escaped scrutiny best, referring to himself as a “block of granite” and accusing parties of leaving his ideals when asked if he changed his politics out of expediency. However, he appeared weak when pressed on a vote he made in the Senate in 1999; he had no explanation other than that it was his first vote.

But what did they do best all together? Perhaps just allowing themselves to be referred to as “all”. O’Malley summed it up well in his closing remarks, pointing out the severe differences between this debate and the Republican debates, and in his continued use of the phrase “We’re all in this together.” 

The Democrats presented an almost stunningly united front. It was if they were saying “vote for one of us, not just for me.” Yes, they did debate, but it was never tearing, and they sounded almost like they were sitting around on a front porch. Former Senator Webb was Sanders’ “good friend,” and most surprising was the quick circling of wagons that occurred when the e-mail scandal was brought up.

“I’ve heard enough about her [expletive] e-mails,” Sanders declared, to resounding applause. 

If they accomplished nothing as individuals, together they looked like a team of professionals sounding each other for the American public’s benefit, not a bunch of playground bullies. That said, at times during the debate, it seemed like they were a group of candidates for student council president desperately trying not to step on one another's toes.

They clearly did not get everything right. Time will tell if this debate will stop Clinton’s backslide, shoot Sanders into the lead, or give a boost to the new coming three. But cracks did show. Critically, when asked what the greatest national security risk was, not one candidate chose to call the American home front a problem, even after a lengthy discussion of gun control. Trump’s ludicrous idea of building a wall might not have been appropriate, but it at least focused on glaring problems at home. The Democrats all conceded that improvement was needed in jobs and economy, but it seemed like to them it was really secondary compared to the feelings that flared overt foreign policy.

And the absence of comment on the Republican Party was curious, and could go either way. What was said was concise and pointed, but it was sparse. Wouldn’t a strategy to fire up Trump into saying something ignorant have been viable? Or was holding back the correct image, of people who know how to lead and keep their hands out of the mud? Time will tell.

Above all, the Democratic debate seems to have been a victory for everyone on stage. There were no major gaffes, and despite the imbalance between Clinton and Sanders, and O’Malley, Chafee, and Webb, the lesser three provided "insulation" for Clinton and Sanders as they fortified their own political camps against a major slip.

If any of the Republican candidates were watching, even if they ignored every policy opinion stated, they had a chance to watch a small but powerful political beast flex its muscles, and get ready to pounce on the forthcoming Republican opponent.

--Justin Burkett, Managing Editor Editor-In-Chief Benjamin Pontz contributed to this report.

Related: Read Pierson Castor's column on last month's Republican debate.

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