National Political Correspondent
The big challenge for Bernie Sanders has been for Americans to see him as a plausible president, not merely as the vessel for their populist rage. So in the debate he needed to act, well, presidential — to demonstrate command of the issues, stay confident and composed, show empathy. Instead, he turned in an uneven performance. Sanders had moments of brilliance, such as railing against “the billionaire class” and lines from the stump speech that has enthralled the grass roots. But at other times, he was defensive, cranky and somewhat unprepared for the intense back-and-forth with Hillary Clinton. To establish himself as a truly credible contender for the presidency, he will need to rise to her level next time.
National Political Reporter
Before the debate, in one of the interminable cable news interviews that accompanied CNN’s countdown clock, David Axelrod suggested that Sanders had done enough to introduce his issues and it was time for him to introduce himself. Sanders did not take this advice. Most of his lines had been fine-tuned at rallies and town hall meetings, starting with his insistence that he was electable because “63 percent of the American people didn’t vote” in 2014. Challenged on his biggest liberal weakness, his gun rights votes, he did exactly what has gotten him into trouble before, trying to define such issues as secondary to economics. Ironically, Sanders might have done the most good when he swung in for Hillary Clinton. “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn e-mails” was a line that benefited them both.