Clinton indeed highlighted her experience, but the shift wound up working to Sanders’ advantage. For the first 30 minutes of the two-hour debate, the former Secretary of State was on the defensive about everything from the Obama administration being caught off guard by the rise of the Islamic State to her 13-year-old vote for the Iraq war.
“Regime changes have unintended consequences,” Sanders said. “On this issue, I’m a little more conservative than the secretary.”
— It was a taste of the debate as a whole, which turned to a far greater extent than the previous meeting on Clinton’s record and positions. With only three candidates on stage, Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley also got more time to speak. In Las Vegas, the candidates were unprepared to attack Clinton on foreign policy. No one even challenged her when she characterized Libya as a success story. This time it was Clinton who had to explain why removing Muammar Gaddafi was justified.
— With the world on fire, and rising fears about terrorism at home, Clinton quickly distanced herself from President Obama at the top. The day before the Paris attacks, he told ABC that ISIS has not been completely decapitated but that U.S. efforts had “contained” the group. “I don’t think they’re gaining strength … and we have contained them,” the president told George Stephanopoulos. In a not-subtle line, Hillary declared: “We have to look at ISIS as the leading threat of an international terror network. It cannot be contained; it must be defeated.” She also referred to her early support for arming moderate rebels in the Syrian civil war, which the president hesitated on.
To be sure, Sanders did not look like a commander-in-chief. And his insistence that climate change is still our biggest national security threat made him look out of his depth and unserious in the face of global terrorism. But very few Democrats still believe that someone besides Clinton will actually be their nominee, so there’s less concern about him actually having the nuclear launch codes. Instead, all eyes were on her.
When the debate moved to the domestic issues on which Sanders is more comfortable, the event became more spirited. The most heated fight of the night came over reforming Wall Street. Sanders said Clinton’s Wall Street proposal was “not good enough,” and O’Malley called it “weak tea.”
— The Des Moines debate will ultimately be remembered for just one moment: Clinton playing both the gender card and invoking the Sept. 11 attacks to defend her coziness with and campaign cash from Wall Street.
Here is the exchange that everyone is talking about:
- Sanders attacks: “Let’s not be naive about it. Why, over her political career, has Wall Street been a major, THE major, campaign contributor to Hillary Clinton? You know, maybe they’re dumb and they don’t know what they’re going to get, but I don’t think so. … Why do they make millions of dollars of campaign contributions? They expect to get something! Everybody knows that!”
- Clinton pulls out a rhetorical bazooka: “Wait a minute, he has basically used his answer to impugn my integrity. Let’s be frank here: … Not only do I have hundreds of thousands of donors, most of them small. And I’m very proud that for the first time a majority of my donors are women, 60 percent. So, I represented New York, and I represented New York on 9/11 when we were attacked. Where were we attacked? We were attacked in downtown Manhattan, where Wall Street is. I did spend a whole lot of time and effort helping them rebuild. That was good for New York. It was good for the economy and it was a way to rebuke the terrorists who had attacked our country.”
— Many liberal thought leaders concurred that Clinton’s answer was Giuliani-esque:
- Slate’s headline: “Hillary Says It’s OK That She Takes Wall Street Money Because Of Women and 9/11.”
- Mother Jones names it “the most important exchange of the debate.”
- The Nation is struck by its “breathtaking cynicism.” From D.D. Guttenplan: “Though there was a breathtaking cynicism in the way Clinton took a question about Wall Street’s influence on her and turned it into a trifecta of righteousness—not only claiming that her efforts on behalf of finance capital were really part of the fight back against 9/11, and suggesting that any suggestion to the contrary was anti–New York and pro-terrorist … there was also something almost beautiful about the sheer chutzpah of the move. It was one of several moments in the debate when Clinton seemed to be navigating in 3D while her opponents remained trapped in Flatland.”
- The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf describes the exchange as “the major gaffe of the night”: “The wild card in this debate was its proximity to the Paris attacks. Many believed this would play to Clinton’s strengths. But in the end I think that it hurt her because the effect was to have a long discussion about her Iraq War vote … Her overall performance was fine, but what was she thinking using 9/11 to defend all the money that she’s taken from Wall Street? I expect it will be used to attack her in primaries and in the general if she gets there.”
— The kerfuffle is breaking through to voters: Twitter and Facebook both say that the 9/11 moment generated more conversation than any other exchange during the face-off. NPR calculates that Wall Street and the banks got more time than any other issue. By its count, the back-and-forth took up 11 minutes and 18 seconds of airtime, compared to 9 minutes and 16 seconds on foreign policy and 6 minutes on ISIS specifically.
— The 9/11-related clips that posted overnight are brutal, and it seems certain that the mainstream media and cable news will zero in with second-day follow-ups.
- Politico’s Glenn Thrush describes Clinton’s answer as “really cray-cray” and believes it “will haunt” her. The longtime Clinton watcher described the 9/11 exchange as “one of the craziest things she’s uttered in public during this campaign or any other.” In his takeaways piece, Glenn calls the gender part of the comment “clever” but says the rest of the answer went off the rails: “Needless to say, the remark – delivered in her emphatic shout-voice — raised eyebrows 24 hours after the terror attacks in Paris killed more than 120 people. And it’s not likely to go away.”
- The Economist calls the tussle “the low point” of the night: “It was so odd, and so shameless…”
- One of CNN’s main takeaways was that it “could really come back to bite her.” David Axelrod, Obama’s strategist in the 2008 primaries, said it was “her one really false note. That was an example of her being too political.” He elaborated on Twitter: “[She] seems trapped between being candidate and a responsible potential president. Solid answers. Not necessarily winning ones.”
- The Des Moines Register spun out a sidebar on the exchange. So did the Wall Street Journal, describing the comment as an “unusual defense.”
- The Fix’s Chris Cillizza said it is “hard to overstate how little sense Clinton’s … argument makes.”
- Washington Post fact checkers also note that just 17 percent of Clinton’s donors meet the definition of small (those contributing under $200): “More than 80 percent of her donations come from big donors, compared to just 22 percent for Sanders.”
- Post editorial columnist Alexandra Petri’s headline: “Under attack, Hillary Clinton PLAYS EVERY POSSIBLE CARD.”
— A taste of how rivals are already trying to capitalize:
- O’Malley senior adviser Lis Smith: “My dad worked in [the World Trade Center] from the day it was built to the day it went down. @HillaryClinton, never invoke 9/11 to justify your Wall St. positions.”
- RNC Chairman Reince Priebus: @HillaryClinton, you reached a new low tonight by using 9/11 to defend your campaign donations.”
— Clinton tried to walk it back: Later in the debate, as Twitter exploded, CBS presented her with an emblematic viewer tweet. University of Iowa law professor Andy Grewal wrote: “Have never seen a candidate invoke 9/11 to justify millions of Wall Street donations. Until now.” Clinton replied, “I’m sorry that whoever tweeted that had that impression … Yes, I did know people. I had a lot of folks give me donations from all kinds of backgrounds [and] say, ‘I don’t agree with you on everything. But I like what you do. I like how you stand up.'”
In the spin room, her communications director highlighted a tough-on-Wall Street speech from before the financial meltdown. Clinton argued that her financial regulatory proposal “is tougher, more effective, and more comprehensive” than Sanders’ “because I go after all of Wall Street not just the big banks.”
— Demonstrating the passion and enthusiasm of his supporters, Sanders also received more buzz and mentions than she she did. According to our analytics partners at Zignal Labs, Sanders accounted for 202,000 of the 370,000 mentions of the candidates during the debate, compared to 152,000 for Clinton. Facebook also said Sanders got more mentions than Clinton on its platform, and Vermont was the most engaged state on the social network during the debate. Here’s a chart tracking mentions over the two hours:
— To be sure, many observers point out that very few people were watching last night and the race’s underlying dynamics still remain the same. The Post’s Dan Balz and Philip Rucker write on our front page that the result “appeared unlikely to change the overall shape of a nomination battle that has moved back in Clinton’s direction in recent weeks.”
Other themes in the post-debate coverage:
- The New York Times’ Amy Chozick and Jonathan Martin argue that Clinton was looking “beyond the primary” and trying “to improve her standing among general election voters:” “In calling out Mr. Sanders for what she said are impractical proposals, Mrs. Clinton reiterated the sentiment, if not the exact phrasing, of a refrain that resonated in the first debate: ‘I’m a progressive who likes to get things done.’
- The Boston Globe’s Annie Linskey says “Clinton seemed to embrace her age”: “I come from the sixties,’ she said. Later, when talking about her approach to health care reform, she sounded a bit resigned. “I waited for revolution,” she said. “Revolution never came.”
- Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin: “After several weeks on a roll, Clinton not so much moved backwards as she let Sanders, and even O’Malley, back in the hunt.”
— Looking ahead, Clinton understands that the Democratic race has, once again, become a referendum on her. “You’ve heard a lot about me in this debate,” she said in her closing statement. “I’m going to keep talking and thinking about all of you.”
— The next two Democratic debates are also scheduled for weekends when very few will watch: the Saturday before Christmas and the Sunday before MLK Day. The DNC denies it, naturally, but this was an obvious ploy to minimize viewership in order to help out the front-runner. After the first debate, suppressing viewership seemed unnecessary. After last night, it makes much more sense.
French police says the Friday evening attacks were carried out by three teams. Police have detained seven relatives of one of the assailants who was killed, Omar Ismail Mostefai, a 29-year old French national. Of Algerian descent, Mostefai was arrested between 2004 and 2010 for minor things like driving without a license. But in 2010, French police started watching him because of his ties to a mosque outside Paris. “The aim is to figure out what led this man to become a suicide bomber,” a French official told The Post’s Anthony Faiola and Souad Mekhennet.
— French President Francois Hollande called the attacks, for which the Islamic State claimed responsibility, an “act of war” and vowed “merciless” retribution. He also declared a state of emergency in France.
President Obama boarded Air Force One for a nine-day trip to Turkey, the Philippines and Malaysia. (@DavidNakamura)
— From the G-20 summit in Turkey, President Obama said: “The skies have been darkened by the horrific attacks that took place in Paris,” and vowed that the U.S. will stand in “solidarity” with France “in hunting down the perpetrators of this crime and bringing them to justice.” Interestingly, Obama has begun using the word “Daesh” to refer to ISIS, a derogatory phrase that can mean “bigot” for which the Islamic State has threatened to “cut out the tongues” of anyone using it.
- A manhunt is underway across Europe for a possible eighth suspect who may have fled, per Anthony Faiola.
- At least 99 of the 352 injured remained in serious condition.
- A French official confirmed one of the attackers had a Syrian passport, which he used to enter Europe in October in the refugee exodus from the Middle East.
- At least two of the seven dead attackers are thought to be Belgian, including an 18-year-old who fought in Syria.
- Three Kalashnikovs were found inside a car that was used, per the AP.
- The attackers wore suicide vests made with the “mother of Satan” explosive.
- The Eiffel Tower was shut down indefinitely: “Paris landmarks became ghost towns. The government deployed 1,500 troops to safeguard key buildings. Schools, libraries, food markets, swimming pools and gymnasiums were closed.”
- Among the victims was 23-year-old American exchange student Nohemi Gonzalez, who was eating dinner at Le Petit Cambodge when attackers struck.
- Baltimore had its 301st homicide last night, crossing a milestone not seen since the dark days of the crack epidemic.
- A man who was attacking a woman with a knife was shot at Union Station last night by an off-duty cop from Maryland. “The knife-wielding man had refused to drop the weapon before being hit, along with a bystander, according to police sources,” per Clarence Williams and Martin Weil.
- Lebanon detained seven Syrians and two Lebanese suspected of involvement in planning terrorist attacks, including a twin bombing last week, and smuggling extremists into the country, per the AP.
From the Democratic debate:
Here’s a view from the stage at Drake University in Des Moines:
The Democrats trolled Republicans with the name of their Wi-Fi network:
Sanders and O’Malley bumped into each other earlier in the day:
DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz met debate host Drake University’s mascot, Griff:
Sanders defended his proposal to increase taxes, noting that he’d raise the marginal tax rate to a level that’s still lower than it was in the 1950’s:
At a Clinton debate watch party in New Hampshire, viewers were served milk and cookies:
Bill Clinton praised his wife’s performance:
Back at Drake, Student Body President Kevin Maisto took a photo with Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.):
Reporters caught a glimpse of Caitlyn Jenner on campus:
But it turns out she wasn’t there for the debate:
Following the Paris attacks:
Many lawmakers and staff switched their profile pictures to this image in honor of the tragic events of Friday night:
Across the world, major monuments were lit up to honor France. Here’s the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin:
The Nationals posted this image to Instagram:
Republican reaction to the Paris attacks:
Marco Rubio released a video saying that the U.S. is in a “clash of civilizations” with radical Islam:
In a radio interview, Jeb Bush called the attacks an “organized effort to destroy western civilization”:
Scott Walker lit up the Wisconsin governor’s mansion in response:
Rick Santorum made a veiled attack on younger Republican presidential candidates:
For Saturday Night Live’s cold open, Cecily Strong delivered a touching tribute to the victims in France. “Paris is the City of Light, and here in New York City, we know that light will never go out,” she said, first in English and then in French. Watch here.
Here are highlights from the Democratic debate, via The Post’s video team: