The most talked about moment on Twitter from the first Democratic debate in Las Vegas, Nevada, last month occurred just under an hour into the affair.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) had a prime opportunity to attack the front-runner, Hillary Clinton, about her use of her personal email account while serving as secretary of state.
But he not only demurred. He defended.
“Let me say something that may not be great politics. I think that the secretary is right. The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails!” Sanders said.
The interaction set the stage for what was a fairly non-confrontational debate, as the candidates essentially fashioned the best parts of their stump speeches into responses to CNN moderator Anderson Cooper’s questions.
But if the past few weeks are any indication, the second debate won’t be nearly as cordial as the first.
Since October, Sanders, Clinton, and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) — the three candidates left in the Democratic field — have begun to take not-so-subtle jabs at each other, setting the stage for conflict at the debate.
The New York Times reported that Sanders — who has said repeatedly that he will refrain from attacking his Democratic rivals during the race — will likely go after Clinton more forcefully during the debate this time, if prompted.
For her part, Clinton has already amped up her criticism of Sanders.
Referencing the Vermont senator’s plea during the first Democratic debate for Americans to tone down the rhetoric over gun control and “stop the shouting,” last month Clinton accused Sanders of gender bias.
“I’ve been told to — and I quote — ‘stop shouting’ about gun violence. First of all, I’m not shouting. It’s just sometimes when women talk, people think we’re shouting,” Clinton said.
According to Politico, Sanders believes that Clinton went a step too far with her criticisms. He has been inspired to go on the offensive by highlighting Clinton’s flip-flopping on issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, gay marriage, and campaign-finance reform.
“I have many disagreements with Hillary Clinton, and one of them is I don’t think it’s good enough just to talk the talk on campaign finance reform,” Sanders said at an event in Iowa last week.” You’ve got to walk the walk. I’m the only Democratic candidate who does not have a super PAC.”
“Unlike some other unnamed candidates, the issue of Keystone was kind of a no-brainer,” Sanders said later in the evening. “It never made sense to me from day one.”
O’Malley has also attempted to cast himself as a progressive alternative to Clinton with executive experience and Democratic party bona fides.
Prior to the first debate, O’Malley’s campaign hinted that the governor would likely take the opportunity to introduce himself to viewers. Now, it seems like O’Malley is poised to take this introduction a step further and forcefully differentiate himself from Sanders and Clinton.
Last week, O’Malley — who campaigned vigorously as a surrogate for President Barack Obama in 2012 — pointed out that Sanders repeatedly made comments suggesting that he would like to see Obama face a progressive primary challenger. (Obama eventually ran unopposed in the primary.)
“When President Obama was running for re-election, I was glad to step up and work very hard for him while Sen. Sanders was trying to find someone to primary him,” O’Malley said last week.
O’Malley has also seized on immigration as a potential wedge issue, highlighting his championing of immigration-reform efforts in Maryland while noting Clinton and Sanders‘ complicated records on immigration reform.
“In 2007, when new American immigrants in New York had the opportunity for New York to do as Maryland had done and pass driver’s licenses for new American immigrants … Secretary Clinton had her campaign call up the then-governor of New York and begged him to pull the bill because it was getting in the way of her politics and her campaign,” O’Malley said last week, according to the Washington Post.
He added: “When comprehensive immigration reform was up for a vote in the Congress, Senator Sanders went on Lou Dobbs’ show — are you familiar with Lou Dobbs? — and said that immigrants take our jobs and depress our wages. Not only are those statements flat-out wrong, they actually harm the consensus.”
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