Democratic Debate #1: Damn Emails, Enemies Lists, & Five Good Candidates

Hillary Clinton, democratic debate Las Vegas, Bernie Sanders, Martin O'Malley, GOP

Smooth Hillary appeared on the debate stage. When asked whether Hillary Clinton wanted to respond to Lincoln Chafee’s not-so-subtle jab at her ethics, she merely replied, “No.” When Anderson Cooper asked her to name her enemies (he must have been channeling his inner Richard Nixon) – without missing a beat, she rattled off a few, with humor and a Cheshire cat grin on her face, including “Republicans.”

One thing is clear after the first Democratic debate – five grown-ups showed up on the stage to talk substantively about what they’d do as president and about issues voters care about, rather than over a dozen GOP candidates who are more focused on name-calling and grandstanding than actually listening to voters. So that’s one thing for those who are already weary of the 2016 presidential race to feel good about.

But I suspect that the happiest people post-debate are Hillary fans, because the Hillary Clinton that showed up at the Democratic debate is the Hillary that can connect and persuade. She was in command of the issues and in command of the stage. She was smart, comfortable, warm, and – wait for it – authentic and likable. As much as I hate to mention those two words, the demand by the media, as well as voters, for Hillary to be those things isn’t going away, so Clinton has to prove she has those attributes, even though no one demands those qualities in her male opponents.

One thing we can all agree on is that the Democratic debate was actually a debate – where candidates were allowed to talk about issues and spar, at least a little, with each other over their differences. I hope the Republicans were watching and take a page from the Dems. But what were some of more notable moments? Jokes about women’s bathroom breaks aside, these were some of mine:

1. Clinton’s “damn emails.” As Bernie Sanders exclaimed, America has had enough with stories about Clinton’s “damn emails.” Forget what cable news commentators are saying in the debate post-mortem that Hillary’s emails will continue to haunt her and could possibly bring down her candidacy. Most voters really don’t care. What they care about, as some who were convinced to hang around for the morning shows shared, is equal pay for women, income inequality, the minimum wage … in other words, the economy, stupid.

2. Lincoln Chafee is toast.  When you’ve only been a Democrat for two years AND the only way you can justify your bank deregulation voting record, that you’d like to back away from, is by saying ‘I was new and I didn’t know what I was doing’, begs the question – What are you going do to if you’re the new president and you’re not sure what you’re doing? Not a good moment to be dodging a question about whether you even understood the massively important bill you were voting on (it’s not like is giving a thumbs up to a proclamation for something like National Hot Dog Day). Based on that response, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a campaign contribution come through to Chafee eheadquarters from “V. Putin.”

3. Martin O’Malley didn’t seem so “fresh.” If your campaign is going to be about new leadership and fresh ideas, then bring that to the stage. Watching him spar with the other candidates, there was no sense that he was the young gun. I’m guessing he knows it would be a little unseemly to prove his youthfulness by confessing his love of going shirtless.

4. Hillary nailed the mic drop moments. Smooth Hillary appeared on the debate stage. When asked whether she wanted to respond to Chafee’s not-so-subtle jab at her ethics, she merely replied, “No.” When Anderson Cooper asked her to name her enemies (he must have been channeling his inner Richard Nixon) – without missing a beat, she rattled off a few, with humor and a Cheshire cat grin on her face, including “Republicans.” Sadly, no matter how good her performance was or how good it continues to be, Hillary is still going to have to battle the gendered language the media use to describe her, as in post-debate headlines that referred to her as “battling” and “still standing” (as if the person who was the clear winner of the debate seemed worried about being knocked over).

5. Who’s Jim Webb? Webb is a serious guy with good intentions but he seemed awfully unprepared for even the most obvious questions. Sadly, on stage, he was a little reminiscent of Ross Perot’s VP running mate in 1992, the late Admiral James Stockade – a little shocked and confused about what was going on and why wasn’t getting more attention.

6. As for The Donald? He was live-tweeting the debate with as much snark as possible:

Post-debate, a few voters who got strong-armed into staying around to chew the fat with commentators had one thing in common – the said their hearts are with Sanders or maybe O’Malley, but that their heads are with Hillary. I understand that and I hope everyone can, because while Sanders may pull at some Democrats’ idealistic heartstrings, at the end of the day, if Dems want to keep the White House, the question has to be – who has the existing relationships on Capitol Hill to get things done and who has the established background with world leaders to skip past the presidential break-in period?

Yes, there are more debates to come, and plenty of time between now and November 2016 in which many things can happen. But if Hillary can maintain the persona she brought to the podium last night – and can keep from appearing agitated when the Anderson Coopers of the world try to trip her up with silly ‘gotcha’ questions – she might just pull off what so many people believe is overdue – getting elected as the first woman president of the United States.

Joanne Bamberger is an independent journalist and journalism entrepreneur who is also the author/editor of the forthcoming book “Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox” (Nov. 3, 2015)(an Amazon #1 Hot New Release, pre-publication). She is the founder and publisher of the The Broad Side and the principal of Broad Side Strategies, a media/strategic communications firm. You can find Joanne on Twitter at @jlcbamberger and on Facebook.

Image via Wikimedia Commons/Marc Nozell/CC License

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