Democratic presidential candidate debate took place Tuesday night
Raul A. Reyes: What it lacked in fireworks, the debate made up for in substance
Editor’s Note: Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today board of contributors. Follow him on Twitter @RaulAReyes. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Students everywhere, take note: Tuesday’s Democratic debate in Las Vegas was proof positive that preparation is the key to success. The clear winner of the debate was Hillary Clinton, who delivered crisp policy points and smoothly dispensed with questions about character, record, and past scandals. Well played, Hill.
Clinton reportedly prepped a great deal for tonight, and it showed. Whether or not you agree with her positions, there is no denying she was in command of all the issues discussed. Strategically, she was on her game, being swift to call out Bernie Sanders for his opposition to gun control measures in the past. Sanders’ response – that he is “a senator from a rural state” – revealed a weakness in the armor of the “Democratic socialist” who is generally considered to be the most progressive candidate. By hewing closely to the left, Clinton denied Sanders an opportunity to highlight their ideological differences.
Clinton, for her part, was able to bask in the line of the evening, when Sanders declared that the “American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.” She even coolly mentioned that rival Martin O’Malley had endorsed her for president in 2008.
Because the Democratic rivals are generally in sync on major issues, their personal style counted for a lot in this forum. Clinton by far seemed the most at ease, and was confident enough to take pointed jabs at her GOP rivals. She has the type of polish that only comes from having jumped through these political hoops before.
The loser of the evening was Jim Webb. His repeated pleas for more time and attention came across as whining. Then when he did get a question, he seemed ill-prepared to answer. He was like the basketball team member who constantly calls for the ball, only to choke each time it is thrown his way.
Latinos had reason to watch this debate closely, as immigration has been a hot topic in this election cycle. Yet the immigration policy segment came late in the evening and it was brief – with many commentators on social media complaining that it seemed like “Hispandering” to have CNN En Español’s Juan Carlos Lopez ask these questions. A similar case could be made for handing off the race question to Don Lemon.
Substance over fireworks
Sure, there are reasons why this debate likely won’t garner as big an audience as the earlier two GOP forums. There was a playoff game going on between New York Mets and L.A. Dodgers, not to mention the Hip-Hop Awards on BET. The popular but undeclared candidate Joe Biden declined to jump in at the last minute (though CNN would have been ready for him if he did). And there was no Donald Trump circus, although The Donald did live tweet the event with his usual bravado.
But what it lacked in fireworks, this debate made up for in substance. Unlike in the GOP debates, there were no personal attacks, talk of “illegals” or endless recitation of personal biographies. It was certainly refreshing to hear issues like Black Lives Matter, Wall Street regulation, and marijuana laws discussed thoughtfully.
Tonight was a victory for Clinton. In fact, at least for a moment it represents a double victory. She appeared authentic…and presidential.