It was Hillary’s night
“Should corporate American love Hillary Clinton?” David Muir asked.
“Everybody should,” Clinton responded without missing a beat.
This will undoubtedly be one of the most memorable moments of Saturday night’s Democratic debate at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire, which showcased just three candidates but managed to cover a lot of ground.
Though buried on a Saturday night right before Christmas and up against NFL football no less, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley combined substance with showmanship that made the debate worth watching. It’s a shame that, without even seeing the ratings, I know that many Americans will have missed it.
Hillary Clinton executed a masterful strategy Saturday night. She managed to handily beat the two men on either side of her who represent the progressive left of the Democratic party and at the same time position herself as a leader for the entire country, including a significant portion of Republicans who fear a Donald Trump presidency as much as any Democrat. In fact, her one- liner about Donald Trump turning into perhaps the biggest recruiting tool for ISIS gave everyone pause – as it should.
Clinton showed herself to be the most experienced candidate the Democrats are offering. While Bernie Sanders related almost every issue back to income inequality and the billionaire class in America – his cornerstone issue – Clinton was able to focus on each topic with precision and specifics. Her strategy to combat ISIS, which is an extension of Obama’s plan with a no-fly zone, is the right approach to combating this threat. On the issue of technology companies working with government to help combat terror, Clinton showed that she is a candidate of balance: there is a way to avoid compromising our civil liberties while still giving law enforcement the tools they need to fight terror.
She was the most balanced candidate on how she’d manage the economy. Instead of promising everything for free through increased taxes on Wall Street, Clinton’s plan to offer debt free college instead of free college is right on the money. She understands that we can’t raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour without hurting the economy and costing jobs, but that we can bring it up to twelve dollars an hour. And her notion of incentivizing profit sharing is a worthwhile one.
Sanders supporters got a great performance from the Vermont senator. He was completely sincere and passionate, showcasing his major selling points.
Sanders began the night by apologizing to Clinton for his campaign’s mishandling of a donor breach, which set the tone for an evening in which he did criticize her at times – notably on her handling of Middle East foreign policy – but also praised her work and went so far as to thank her for transforming the role of first lady. We saw no surprises from him: he wants to raise taxes and fundamentally redistribute wealth in the country. And he wants to fight ISIS through coalitions, but is opposed to any American boots on the ground, even special forces.
As for O’Malley, he did his best, but flopped on a number of issues. He took swipes at both Clinton and Sanders that won’t resonate with viewers and voters.
He surely has the experience and has notably implemented gun safety reform and raised the minimum wage in Maryland, but he just doesn’t appeal to voters. And in an election where Americans want outsider politicians, they’re never going to choose O’Malley over Clinton as the establishment candidate.
That said, O’Malley did bring up an issue that may haunt Clinton the most: Benghazi. In a veiled swipe at her, he noted how Ambassador Christ Stevens was not provided the proper support and tools to help Libya transition into a thriving democracy – a clear reminder of his untimely death. No doubt this foreshadows what will be in all likelihood a major line of attack from the Republicans and stands to really hurt her going forward.
Even with Hillary Clinton’s strong attempt at bipartisan appeal on Saturday evening, the question remains whether she’ll be able to pull it out if the Republicans nominate a strong, establishment candidate who doesn’t have her baggage.
In recent polling she’s been competitive with each GOP contender – and ahead of some – but we know that Obama’s low approval, American anxiety over ISIS and concerns about the economy could hurt her.
As for the Democratic battle, Hillary Clinton came into Saturday night with a big lead and she leaves with a big lead. Neither Sanders nor O’Malley hurt themselves, but her dominance was clear and it explains why she has her eyes focused on the prize: beating the Republicans come next November.
Douglas E. Schoen has served as a pollster for President Bill Clinton. He has more than 30 years experience as a pollster and political consultant. He is also a Fox News contributor and co-host of "Fox News Insiders" Sundays on Fox News Channel at 7 pm ET. He is the author of 13 books. His latest is "Putin's Master Plan" (Encounter Books, September 27, 2016). Follow Doug on Twitter @DouglasESchoen.