Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders shouted at each other for two hours in Brooklyn on Thursday night—a loud reminder just how high the stakes have become in the Democratic nomination fight.
Feeling the urgency of an ever-shortening primary race, both candidates brought an arsenal of verbal shivs and blunt objects in hopes of mortally wounding the other before the critical New York primary on Tuesday.
The tone was set before either walked on stage. The two spent the week since Sanders won the Wisconsin primary launching increasingly negative attacks against each other at rallies and meetings along the East Coast.
CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer’s first question centered around puzzling comments Sanders made at a rally in Philadelphia where he suggested Clinton—a two-term senator and former secretary of state—was “unqualified” to be president.
Sanders later walked that comment back, shifting to criticism of Clinton’s “judgement.”
Asked on Thursday if his opponent “has the judgment to be president?” Sanders returned to what have become familiar lines of attack in this ninth Democratic debate:
“I question a judgment which voted for the war in Iraq, the worst foreign policy blunder in the history of this country,” Sanders said after assuring once again that he did in fact think that Clinton is “qualified” to be president.
“[She] voted for virtually every disastrous trade agreement which cost us millions of decent paying jobs, and I question her judgment about running Super PACs which are collecting tens of millions of dollars from special interests, including $15 million from Wall Street… I don’t believe that that is the kind of judgment we need to be the kind of president we need.”
Clinton quickly seized on Sanders’s rough interview with the New York Daily News (which endorsed her this week) and used it as a weapon to bludgeon him with his own core issue.
“[I]f you go and read—which I hope all of you will before Tuesday—Senator Sanders’s long interview with the New York Daily News, talk about judgment and talk about the kinds of problems he had answering questions about even his core issue—breaking up the banks,” she said.
The message: He’s a “revolutionary” without a pragmatic plan, which has been the crux of Clinton’s criticism with a candidate who shares strikingly similar beliefs.
“Let's talk about super PACs and 501(c)(4)s,” Sanders shot back. “Money is completely undisclosed; Where does it come from? Do we really feel confident about a candidate saying she's going to bring change in America, when she is so dependent on big-money interests? I don't think so.”
The message: Her pragmatism is bought and paid for.
And so it went, back and forth. Loud noises responding to other loud noises, as if the sheer volume of the discourse would decide the contest at hand.
It became so bad at one point that Blitzer had to remind them that their words were getting lost in the cacophony.
“If you're both screaming at each other, the viewers won't be able to hear either of you,” Blitzer said.
“OK,” Sanders said
“So please…” Blitzer started.
“I will…” Sanders interrupted.
“— don’t talk over each other.” Blitzer finished.
And then they kept talking over each other for at least two more minutes.
Both candidates found themselves in familiar corners at various times during the debate.
Clinton, somewhat inexplicably, still did not have a good answer as to why she refuses to release the transcripts of the pricey speeches she gave to Wall Street banks after she was secretary of state.
Pressed as to why she wouldn’t just put this issue to bed once and for all, John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman, told The Daily Beast “She answered the question,” without further explanation.
And Sanders struggled once again to explain his vote for a bill that gave the gun industry special protection from civil suits filed by crime victims—on the same day that a Connecticut judge allowed a lawsuit filed against gunmakers by families of the Sandy Hook victims to proceed.
“I voted against this gun liability law because I was concerned that in rural areas all over this country, if a gun shop owner sells a weapon legally to somebody, and that person then goes out and kills somebody, I don’t believe it is appropriate that that gun shop owner who just sold a legal weapon to be held accountable and be sued,” he said, as some in the audience booed.
While the volume was amped up, both candidates continued with attacks they have lobbed at each other for months now as they vied to claim a home turf advantage ahead of Tuesday night’s vote in a contest where Clinton leads Sanders 57 percent to 40 percent, according to the latest NBC4 New York/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll.
As the two-hour shouting match wrapped up, both Clinton and Sanders offered their love for their hometown/adopted home one last time, with different variations of the same message: THANK YOU, NEW YORK.