I'll be live-blogging the debate here. Keep reloading for more updates.
As always, I'll be quoting the candidates on the fly, but I'll try to keep the quotes reasonably accurate. (I might go back and tweak some of the quotes later, but if you need an exact quote, please don't rely on this post — check the transcript.)
[Here's an annotated transcript.]
It's easy to say that tonight will be all about Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. But even if you're sure that Martin O'Malley, Jim Web, and Lincoln Chafee can't win the nomination, they could still have an impact tonight.
As Bill Scher has pointed out, a pivotal moment in the 2008 Democratic primaries was prompted by a candidate who never had a serious chance: Chris Dodd.
The New Yorker's Amy Davidson reminds us:
[On] October 30, 2007, when the Democrats debated in Philadelphia[,] Clinton was the front-runner then, too, and it was the thirteenth time the candidates had met. But it was also, arguably, the first time that her opponents—Dennis Kucinich, Bill Richardson, John Edwards, Christopher Dodd, Joe Biden, and, most improbably, Barack Obama—seriously challenged her, on all fronts. Edwards accused her of “doubletalk.” Obama called her out for “changing positions whenever it’s politically convenient”—she was “for NAFTA previously, now she’s against it”—and for not being “truthful.” A lot of the time was taken up asking why records of her official work in her husband’s White House were sealed in the Clinton Presidential library. She responded with what must have been intended as judiciousness but came across as obfuscation. When Tim Russert, one of the moderators, tried to determine whether she was in favor of issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants—she had indicated both yes and no—she called his question a “gotcha.”As you can see in this video, Dodd wasn't the only one going after Clinton on drivers' licenses for illegal immigrants, but he was the first candidate to seize on it. Obama and Edwards then picked up on Dodd's cue and added to the criticism of Clinton for being unclear and trying to have it both ways. No one expected drivers' licenses to be a significant issue in the election before that night, but those five minutes were arguably the beginning of the end for the Clinton campaign.
In the days that followed, Clinton and her campaign tried to frame the debate as a Hillary-against-the-world moment, a “pile-on,” orchestrated by what she called, in a speech at Wellesley College, “the all-boys’ club.” Clinton had been considered the winner in most of the previous debates, and even many of her supporters acknowledged that this one marked a turning point. A week before, she was at 48.5 per cent in an average of polls, the highest she had ever been. (Obama registered 21.2.) Immediately afterward, she began a decline and, despite some rebounds, never matched that number again.
8:41 — Sheryl Crow does a weak rendition of the national anthem.
8:49 — Lincoln Chafee notes, in his opening statement, that he's the only candidate who's been a mayor, a governor, and a Senator. Also: "I have had no scandals!" (Unlike some candidates!)
8:51 — Jim Webb emphasizes that "more than half of [his] professional life" has been outside politics (as a novelist, journalist, and businessperson).
8:52 — Webb vividly describes his family members, including his wife, who immigrated here from Vietnam and learned English, a language that wasn't spoken at home when she was growing up, and eventually went to my alma mater, Cornell Law School.
8:53 — Martin O'Malley's opening strikes a humble note: "There are some things in life I've learned how to do better than others. . . ."
8:55 — Bernie Sanders uses his opening to attack the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United for giving undue influence to "millionaires and billionaires." He also notes that "African-American youth unemployment is 51%." Instead of "providing more jails and more incarceration," Sanders would raise the minimum wage, further increasing African-American youth unemployment.
8:59 — Hillary Clinton starts out talking about how she's been "traveling across the country, . . . listening and learning." And: "Yes, finally, fathers will be able to say to their daughters: you too can grow up to be President."
9:01 — Anderson Cooper asks Clinton about her flip-flops on gay rights, trade, and other issues. "Will you say anything just to get elected?" She claims to have been "very consistent" throughout her life — "but I do absorb new information." On President Obama's trade deal: "I wanted to make sure I could look in the eyes of American families and say this will raise your wages, and I concluded I could not."
9:03 — Cooper asks Clinton: "Just for the record, are you a progressive or a moderate"? "I'm a progressive, but I'm a progressive who likes to get things done."
9:04 — Sanders is asked how he can win as a "democratic socialist." He says this can work as long as he educates the public on "what democratic socialism means," including: "It is immoral and wrong that the top tenth of the top 1% own as much as the bottom 90%." Sanders invokes Denmark, and Cooper shoots back that it has a population of just a few million.
9:06 — Cooper asks Sanders if he's a capitalist. "Do I consider myself a part of the casino-capitalist process? . . . No, I don't." Cooper opens up the question to the other candidates, and Clinton says we need to "save capitalism from itself," to "rein in the excesses of capitalism so it doesn't run amok." "But," Clinton adds pointedly, "we are not Denmark," and we need to support small businesses, which she does associate with capitalism.
9:08 — Cooper asks Chafee how Democrats can trust him — "you've only been a Democrat for two years." Chafee: "You're looking at a block of granite on the issues." Cooper retorts: "It's pretty soft granite!" Why did Chafee switch parties? "The party left me! There was no room left for a liberal, moderate Republican."
9:09 — Cooper asks O'Malley about the unrest in Baltimore, which he led as mayor and governor. "We saved over 1,000 lives in Baltimore over 15 years, and most of them were young and black." [VIDEO.]
9:11 — Webb is asked about his position on affirmative action — isn't he out of step with the party? He says no, and clarifies that he has "always been in favor of affirmative action for African-Americans." He's against affirmative action being applied to "everyone but whites, including poor Appalachian whites."
9:13 — Cooper asks Sanders about his record on gun control. He responds in the third person: "Bernie Sanders has a D- rating from the NRA."
9:15 — Clinton is asked whether Sanders is "tough enough on guns." She directly attacks Sanders: "No. Not at all. . . . Senator Sanders did vote 5 times against the Brady Bill." After Sanders defended himself on the ground that a bill protecting gun manufacturers from lawsuits was complicated, Clinton says it was "not that complicated."
9:17 — O'Malley seethes with anger as he tells the story of the family of a woman who died in the Aurora shooting, who tried to sue the gun manufacturer. As O'Malley joins in Clinton's attack on Sanders, Clinton repeatedly nods her head with determination. O'Malley one-ups Sanders by touting his "F from the NRA," and accusing Sanders of "pandering to the NRA."
9:19 — Cooper points out that Webb has an "A rating from the NRA!" He doesn't back away from his support of gun rights: "The average American," who doesn't get free bodyguards, "deserves the right to protect their family."
9:23 — Clinton says it's "unacceptable" for Russia to be "bombing people on behalf of Assad." But isn't that [partly] a euphemism for bombing ISIL? [I added the word "partly" and the link afterwards, based on a comment.]
9:24 — Sanders calls the Iraq War the worst foreign-policy decision in American history (or one of the worst — didn't catch that). Clinton chimes in that no one on the stage supports the war. (Of course, she voted to authorize the war but eventually said she regretted it.)
9:24 — Clinton cleverly notes that she was at about 25 debates 8 years ago in which she and Obama went back and forth on Iraq — but after all that, "President Obama asked me to be Secretary of State. He valued my judgment." [VIDEO.]
9:28 — Sanders is asked when he would support military action. "I voted to make sure that Osama bin Laden was held accountable in Afghanistan." He also voted for the Kosovo War.
9:31 — As a question goes to Clinton, Webb complains that he hasn't gotten a question in a while. Clinton brushes him off: "Well, I am in the middle here! Lots of things coming at me from all directions!"
9:33 — Webb tells us, for the second time, that he fought in Vietnam and his son fought in Iraq. [He later brings up his Vietnam service for a third time.] How well has the "I'm a veteran" pitch worked for presidential candidates in the past? Just ask President Wesley Clark, President Kerry, President McCain, President Dole . . .
9:34 — Sanders on Russia and Syria: "I think Putin is going to regret what he is doing." Cooper: "He doesn't seem to be the type of guy to regret a lot."
9:38 — Webb comes out strongly against Obama's war in Libya: "It's not about Benghazi per se, but about the decisions that allowed Benghazi to happen. There were no treaties at risk, no Americans at risk, no attack or threat of attack."
9:39 — Sanders is asked how he could be Commander in Chief after he applying for "conscientious objector" status during the Vietnam War. "When I was a young man — I'm not a young man today — I strongly opposed the Vietnam War. . . . I am not a pacifist." [VIDEO.]
9:42 — Every candidate is asked what the greatest threat to the US is. Clinton says nuclear weapons being obtained by terrorists. Sanders says climate change.
9:46 — Cooper brings up Clinton's emails. "You dismissed it. You joked about it. You called it a mistake. What does that say about your ability to handle far more pressing responsibilities as President?" She attacks the House Committee that's soon going to hear her testimony about the emails as "partisan." "I think it's pretty clear what their obvious goal is. So I'll be there, I'll testify. But tonight, I want to talk not about my emails but about [the issues]."
9:49 — Sanders refuses to turn Clinton's emails into an issue: "Secretary Clinton is right. The American people are tired of hearing about your damn emails!" Clinton: "Me too!" She reaches over to shake his hand: "Thank you, Bernie! Thank you!" [VIDEO.]
9:50 — Chafee attacks Clinton over the emails. Cooper asks: "Secretary Clinton, do you want to respond?" "No!"
9:52 — An audience member asks: "Do black lives matter, or do all lives matter?" Why are those mutually exclusive?
9:54 — Clinton says we need to "tackle mass incarceration" — which might be "the only bipartisan issue this year." "We need a new New Deal for communities of color and the poor."
9:55 — Webb: "I risked my political life raising the issue of criminal justice reform."
9:58 — Cooper to Clinton: "You and your husband are part of the 1%. How can you represent the views of the middle class?" She reminds us that they didn't start out rich, then pivots from the personal to the political: "The economy does better when we have a Democrat in the White House."
10:00 — Clinton is asked about how she doesn't want to "break up the big banks," as Sanders does. Clinton says her plan is "tougher," and would actually "empower regulators to break up big banks if . . . they posed a risk."
10:01 — Sanders says he "fought" "the Clinton administration" on financial regulations. Clinton comes back that she went to Wall Street in 2007, before the crash, and said, "Cut it out!" Bernie laughs and shakes his head while she's speaking, and once she's done, he tells her: "Congress does not regulate Wall Street. Wall Street regulates Congress."
10:07 — Webb complains again about not getting enough time. Cooper: "You agreed to these rules, and you're wasting your time!"
10:08 — Chafee is asked about his vote on Glass-Steagall in 1999. Chafee's pathetic excuse: "I had just arrived in the Senate!" Cooper: "What does it say about you that you were casting a vote about something you weren't sure about?"
10:18 — Clinton supports in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. O'Malley agrees and presents this as a contrast with "Donald Trump, that carnival barker."
10:21 — Clinton says she doesn't regret her vote for the Patriot Act. "It was necessary to make sure that we were able after 9/11 to put in place the security that we needed." She says Bush's warrantless surveillance went too far, but doesn't comment on Obama's warrantless surveillance.
10:23 — Chafee on Edward Snowden: "I would bring him home. A federal court ruled that what the government did was illegal." Clinton disagrees: "He broke the laws of the United States. He could have been a whistle-blower. . . . I don't think he should be brought home without facing the music." Sanders splits the difference: Snowden was a hero, but he should also face consequences for breaking the law. Webb, when given the chance to talk (as he keeps begging for), takes no position on Snowden.
10:25 — Chafee says: "We need a new paradigm in the Middle East." He calls out the Obama administration for bombing a hospital and using drone strikes on a wedding. I like his message, but he's not a strong messenger.
10:26 — Clinton is asked how she'd be different from President Obama: "I think that's pretty obvious! I think being the first woman president would be quite a change from the presidents we've had up to this point!"
10:28 — Webb tries to tamp down the excitement over Sanders and his ambitious proposals: "I don't think the revolution is gonna come, and I don't think Congress is gonna pay for all this stuff."
10:29 — Cooper gives a teaser for the next round after the commercial break: "Some of the candidates have smoked marijuana, as has probably everybody in this room! Has it influenced their views on legalization?"
10:34 – Cooper says he's glad to see all of the candidates "back" after the commercial break, and says he's particularly glad to see Clinton back. Clinton, seeming out of breath, says: "You know, it does take me a little longer!"
10:36 — "I certainly am not campaigning to be president because my last name is Clinton."
10:37 — Sanders, in what's surely a gross exaggeration, says: "I am the only candidate running for president who's not a billionaire."
10:38 — On the environment, Cooper again asks Webb if he's out of step with his party.
10:41 — Clinton: "Literally, President Obama and I were hunting for the Chinese!" (Poor word choice!) "They told us they were going to the airport. We found out that they were having a secret meeting." [Added later: This is what she was talking about. This is what people pictured. Was this Clinton's "binders full of women" moment?]
10:43 — The candidates all talk about their support for paid family leave.
10:45 — Sanders says he "suspect[s]" he would vote for a Nevada referendum to legalize marijuana, if he lived in Nevada. (The moderator notes that he's admitted to smoking marijuana, but only twice.)
10:46 — Clinton says she supports medical marijuana but doesn't yet support legalizing recreational marijuana. (The moderator notes that she's denied ever doing it.)
10:53 — All the candidates are asked which "enemy" they're most proud to have made. Clinton's answer: "Well, in addition to the NRA, the health insurance companies, the drug companies, the Iranians, . . . probably the Republicans."
10:59 — O'Malley uses his closing statement to give evidence that America is on a progressive path: "Talk to Americans under 30, and you will never hear people who want to deny rights to gay people or bash immigrants."
11:02 — Hillary Clinton closes the evening with a statement reminiscent of Bill Clinton: "If you work hard and you do your part, you should be able to get ahead. . . . America's best days are ahead of us."
John Dickerson, host of Face the Nation, asks:
Anyone see an opening for Joe Biden after this debate?I think things are easier for Biden now, because the question of why he should be running (rather than standing back to let Clinton glide smoothly to the presidency) no longer seems like such a big deal, after we've seen 4 other candidates all challenging her while standing right by her.
And while Clinton was very strong tonight, we already knew from 2008 that both Clinton and Biden are skilled at debating. This debate showed that Clinton has no strong challenger, which strengthens the rationale for Biden stepping in.
Alex Knepper sums up the night:
On the whole, Hillary tried to appeal to people's heads, with the knowledge that Bernie would have their hearts. Overall I think she did very well -- articulate, knowledgeable, and didn't allow Sanders -- or the audience -- to pull her too far to the left.My verdict:
Winners: Hillary Clinton, Martin O'Malley, Anderson Cooper
Losers: Bernie Sanders, Lincoln Chafee, Jim Webb, Sheryl Crow
UPDATE: I originally called Sanders a "wash," but I'm moving him to the "losers" category. He didn't do much to win more support from the left than he already had; he was wounded on guns; and I can see many progressives who had been tentatively supporting him realizing that Clinton is the more sensible choice.