NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 14:  Democratic Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) debate during the CNN Democratic Presidential Primary Debate at the Duggal Greenhouse in the Brooklyn Navy Yard on April 14, 2016 in New York City. The candidates are debating ahead of the New York primary to be held April 19.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton battle over big banks
02:21 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Buck Sexton is a political commentator for CNN and host of “The Buck Sexton Show” on TheBlaze. He was previously a CIA counterterrorism analyst. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

Story highlights

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders took part in a Democratic candidate presidential debate on Thursday

Buck Sexton: Clinton took debate as an opportunity to clarify that she is indeed running for Obama's third term

CNN  — 

With Hillary Clinton way ahead in the delegate count as well as in the most recent polls for the New York primary, it is becoming a near certainty that she will be the Democratic Party nominee. But Bernie Sanders refuses to give up. He is a man with a message – promising more for the middle, less for the top – and he took the fight to Hillary on the debate stage Thursday night with gusto.

Brooklyn was a particularly symbolic backdrop for the Bernie vs. Hillary battle. It is where Sanders was born, and is also the site of Clinton’s campaign headquarters. Both candidates have New York roots, though Clinton’s ties as a former senator and current resident give her the hometown edge. It was in their authenticity as progressives, champions of average Americans, however, where Clinton and Sanders most notably clashed.

The first real melee of the night was, predictably, on the issue of Clinton’s cozy ties to well-moneyed special interests. Under the rubric of questioning her judgment, Sanders brought up the former Secretary of State’s penchant for giving very expensive advice to corporate groups that may have sought access to more than just her opinion. Despite posturing about “standing up to special interests,” Clinton has a well-documented history of hobnobbing with those who can pay a small fortune for the pleasure of hearing her voice for an hour.

Buck Sexton

Clinton is a skilled debater and prevaricator, but even she can’t evade the obvious here. She gave outrageously overcompensated speeches to the very same groups, like Wall Street firms, that she now says wrecked Main Street. By merely pointing out her record of cash for chats, Sanders scored major points.

But Clinton’s most effective takedown of Sanders soon followed: Sanders’ now infamous sit-down with the New York Daily News editorial board. A candidate who makes the very phrase “millionaires and billionaires” sound ominous – and who promises to break up the greedy banks as a central piece of his platform – should have some basic idea of how the banking system works. To regulate the functions of the financial sector, one should probably know how the financial sector functions. And if the goal is to send some bankers to prison, as Sanders has suggested, it would seem only fair that he know what law these soon-to-be felons violated. By his own admission, Sanders has ample studying left to do on the issue. Clinton, unable to outmaneuver Sanders on appeal or zeal, once again went to her sweet spot: policy substance.

Clinton also took the debate as an opportunity to clarify – for any Democrat who still harbors doubts – that she is indeed running for Obama’s third term. She cited Obama’s trust in her as Secretary of State as proof of her judgment, adamantly defended Obamacare as though the law were hers, pointed to the Super Pacs that supported Obama as justification for similar support of her campaign, and more or less said if Obama could take lots of Wall Street money without it being a big deal, she could, too. Hillary simultaneously appropriated some parts of Obama’s presidency to bolster her own candidacy, and defended his record where there was a direct crossover with her own record (most notably on foreign policy).

This is all to be expected as part of Clinton’s preparation for her coronation. The New York primary is likely to be a big win for her, and she has the super delegates, DNC party machinery, and Clinton apparatus at her disposal to finish off the rest. Short of a Sanders miracle, this will be over in a matter of weeks. One way or another, Clinton will get across the finish line to become the Democratic party’s nominee. What remains to be decided is whether the Bernie base – a coalition defined by young, enthusiastic progressives – will be willing to fall in line behind their party’s ultra-establishment nominee.

Will the Sandernistas give up their dreams of a candidate who promises political revolution and support one like Clinton who at best offers Democrats business as usual? The answer could mean the difference between victory and defeat this November.

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