By far the biggest loser in tonight's Democratic debate was ABC. If you thought CNBC's moderators in the Republican debate were bad, ABC beat them by a mile. While a discussion of foreign policy issues expected and critical, particularly following a GOP debate that focused on the same, ABC spent far too much time in the weeds. It was also a waste of time to deal with the DNC data breach issue -- which most Americans don't understand and/ or don't care about.
ABC asked but one question about police brutality and sentencing reform, no questions on education other than college affordability, no questions on the war on reproductive rights and no questions on climate change -- despite a recent historic agreement among the nations of the world.
Yet Martha Raddatz managed to squeeze in a tired, sexist trope about Bill Clinton being a "First Lady." Then, she made it worse by implying that all First Ladies do is arrange flowers and cook state dinners. But, we all know that’s not all that First Ladies do. Betty Ford focused on substance abuse and alcoholism, while Hillary Clinton fought for health care and education for girls globally. Laura Bush was an amazing advocate for literacy and Michelle Obama has worked tirelessly on nutrition. First Ladies have a legacy of doing more than fluffing pillows -- going back to Dolly Madison.
So, please, Martha Raddatz and all reporters who keep asking this question: Stop.
Aside from ABC being the biggest loser, the GOP is in very real trouble and here are 7 reasons why:
1. The GOP can't match Democrats on foreign policy
For the first time in a long time, Republicans have lost perceived dominance on foreign policy issues -- and on the fighting the so-called "War on Terror" specifically. If you watched Tuesday's Republican debate, you probably noticed one major flaw: Not one candidate offered a concrete idea for how to fight and defeat ISIS. Instead, Republicans offered the following:
- Fiorina said she would cut off all communication with Putin
- Christie said he would stop cutting the military budget
- Rubio would get Sunni troops to fight ISIS -- but didn't explain how
- Ted Cruz didn't even know what "carpet bombing" meant
All of Republican candidates did nothing more than employ empty rhetoric.
By contrast, what viewers heard Saturday night from the Democrats were comprehensive strategies and ideas.
- "American-led air campaign, we have to have Arab and Kurdish troops on the ground"
- "Go after everything from North Africa to South Asia and beyond." Presumably, she means hunt out terrorists and ISIS living outside of Syria.
- "And then, most importantly, here at home." She's referring to fighting ISIS sympathizers within the U.S.
“I do not believe in unilateral American action. I believe in action in which we put together a strong coalition of forces, major powers, and the Muslim nations." Sanders and Clinton sparred over this, but Sanders was strong on the position that the United States "cannot be the world's police" and urged us to instead have the region take the lead on fighting terrorism in their own neighborhood. Later on in the debate, Sanders emphasized his point by suggesting that Qatar had misplaced priorities. "Instead of spending $200 billion on the World Cup, maybe they should pay attention to ISIS, which is at their doorstep,” he said.
"We have to increase the battle tempo, we have to bring a modern way of getting things done and forcing the sharing of information and do a much better job of acting on it in order to prevent these sorts of attacks in the future." O'Malley was referring to San Bernardino and placed an emphasis on fighting terrorism here at home against ISIS sympathizers or those coming to the US to commit acts of terrorism.
2. Reasonable gun control
You'd be hard pressed to find a Republican candidate who is willing to change anything about America's gun laws. Yet, most Americans want more sensible regulations of guns when it comes to criminals and the mentally ill. So, why does the GOP refuse to represent the desires of the people?
Democratic candidates, however, are more in line with what Americans want -- not what the NRA wants.
During the debate, Clinton said she doesn't believe in the idea that more guns make Americans safer. "We lose 33,000 people a year already to gun violence, arming more people to do what I think is not the appropriate response to terrorism," she said. She also cited her vote to not “give gun makers and sellers immunity."
Sanders said he believes in responsible gun ownership, but wants stiffer regulations. He cited a poll saying an "overwhelming majority of the American people say we should strengthen the instant background check." He also advocated for closing the gun show loophole and believes that weapons "that are designed for military" should not be in the hands of civilians.
O'Malley cited his record as a governor who banned the purchase of combat assault weapons in Maryland. But when pressed, he said that he would not fight to take away those weapons from people who have already purchased them.
In the first few years following 9/11, Republicans used scare tactics to great effect to control the electorate. But the success of that strategy has waned in the intervening years because -- let’s face it -- you can only sustain that level of fear for so long. The GOP’s perceived dominance has also been weakened because Americans have learned that you can be tough on terror (killing Osama bin Laden) while also speaking reasonably and rationally about the real threats facing our nation.
During the Republican debate Tuesday night, you saw more of the same old post-9/11 fear-mongering used to try to scare Americans into voting GOP and sending American youth off again to another ground war that will take a decade or two to resolve.
When asked if the 36 percent of Americans who agree with Trump that we should ban all Muslims, Clinton sympathized with people who are afraid, but asserted that Trump's ideas are dangerous. "Mr. Trump has a great capacity to use bluster and bigotry to inflame people and to make think there are easy answers to very complex questions," Clinton said. Earlier in the debate, she also said that such xenophobia is now being used as a recruitment tool to prove that America is the enemy and that Trump is only fueling ISIS.
Sanders said that people are understandably afraid, but the greater fear in their daily lives was economic well-being, stability and mobility:
And somebody like a Trump comes along and says, 'I know the answers. The answer is that all of the Mexicans, they're criminals and rapists, we've got to hate the Mexicans. Those are your enemies. We hate all the Muslims because all of the Muslims are terrorists. We've got to hate the Muslims.' Meanwhile, the rich get richer.
O'Malley told a story about a Muslim friend of his whose son asked "Dad, what happens if Donald Trump wins and we have to move out of our homes?" O'Malley explained that these are very real issues, calling it "a clear and present danger in our politics within." He continued that we should talk more about what unites people. "Freedom of worship, freedom of religion, freedom of expression. And we should never be convinced to give up those freedoms in exchange for a promise of greater security; especially from someone as untried and as incompetent as Donald Trump," he said.
4. Wages for American families stagnate while CEO pay balloons
If there's one thing the GOP candidates love to do is talk about the "takers." The GOP's greatest flaw, of which there are many, is the insistence on cutting spending while giving tax cuts to the wealthy one percent in hopes that it will “trickle down.” As we've now seen in Kansas and now in Oklahoma, those state economies are literally dying from “trickle down” economics. “Trickle down” doesn’t work. It has never worked. It’s never going to work.
None of the Republican candidates support raising the minimum wage, none support paid family leave, yet all (except Rand Paul) support corporate welfare.
Tell the billionaire class, they cannot have it all. For a start, they're going to start to pay their fair share of taxes. – Bernie Sanders
By contrast, Senator Sanders has made income inequality the cornerstone of his campaign and his reason for running. The Sanders Plan is simple:
- Raise the minimum wage to $15/hour over several years.
- Equal pay: "Women should not be making 79 cents on the dollar compared to that."
- Real unemployment assistance.
- "Rebuild our crumbling infrastructure." By doing so, Sanders says, "we create 13 million jobs with a trillion-dollar investment."
- Better education: "Tax on Wall Street speculation to make certain that public colleges and universities in America are tuition free."
O'Malley cited his success in Maryland raising the wage, increased goals for employment of women and minorities and increased education funding by 37 percent. Under his leadership, Maryland also increased their investment in their state infrastructure as well as spurring the green economy with incentives.
Clinton invoked a famous Elizabeth Warren line by saying "It's absolutely the case that if people feel that the game is rigged, that has consequences." She also agreed in the raise of the minimum wage and greater profit sharing. Clinton wants to see the Paycheck Fairness Act passed as well as debt-free college and reducing the cost of drug prices.
5. The GOP hates Obamacare
Another major contrast for the GOP is that they want to repeal Obamacare, yet have no plan for how to fix the most costly and inefficient health care systems in the world.
Raddatz had a hard time understanding Clinton's insistence that the uninsured rate was not an indictment of the program. Clinton maintained that the reason for the uninsured rate was due largely to state governors who refuse to allow for the expansion of Medicaid. As a result, people still cannot afford health care and are getting their care at hospital emergency rooms. Clinton wants to build on the work Obamacare has done and continue the fight until all Americans are insured.
Sanders, by contrast, is pleased with the work he did in his committee on the Affordable Care Act, however, he still wants to see a single-payer system in place. The reason that he believes it can never happen is due to campaign finance reform and the power of special interests. Many stand to lose a lot of money if the U.S. operated like Canada or the UK, but Sanders is taking a stand and hopes more will support that plan.
6. Higher education should remain the same
In the 756 Republican debates we've had so far, the number of times higher education was discussed and/ or mentioned could be counted on one hand and is largely defined by Marco Rubio's student loan debt. Rubio has called America's higher education system "outdated," saying it doesn't prepare people for the 21st century and is too costly. But Rubio's solution is to "do what needs to be done -- tax reform, regulatory reform, fully utilize our energy resources, repeal and replace Obamacare, and modernize higher education, then we can grasp the potential and the promise of this new economy."
All Democratic Party candidates want to see a significant increase in the aid available to students.
The Sanders plan is a moon shot to guarantee across-the-board free college education for anyone who wants it. It's a policy we see now in many European countries like Germany. To fund this plan, Sanders said he would "put a speculation tax on Wall Street, raise very substantial sums of money." Sanders went on to say, "We should look at college today the way high school was looked at 60 years ago."
O'Malley once again cited his record as the governor and the policies he set in place to ensure that, despite an economic recession, Maryland kept the cost of state colleges at the same rate. His national plan, he said, would go further because so much of the costs to students come in the form of books, room and board and fees. He would increase Pell Grants and specific refinancing programs. He also proposes "a block grant program that will keep the states in the game as well," he said. "I believe that all of our kids should go into an income-based repayment plan."
Clinton acknowledged a major factor in the reason tuition has increased: states are pulling funding. As a result, her plan would develop a federal program that would match money put in by states to incentivize them to put the funds back into higher education. However, unlike Sanders, Clinton doesn't believe in free tuition and prefers to focus on middle and working class families. She suggests a debt-free tuition plan
7. The Republicans think #AllLivesMatter
One of the greatest explanations for why the adage "all lives matter" isn't helpful begins with a man with a broken leg. If the man goes to his doctor and the doctor says "all bones matter" you'd start looking for another doctor. While, yes, all bones do matter, when your leg is broken, you focus on fixing the leg. Republicans have had a difficult time acknowledging that there is a broken leg to begin with. The only GOP debate that has dealt with policing was back in August -- and less than 60 seconds was spent on the topic.
During the Democratic debate, Clinton refused to specifically disagree with the idea of a "Ferguson Effect" FBI Director James Comey pulled from his orifice last October. But she did acknowledge the problem. "We have systemic racism and injustice and inequities in our country," she began. "And in particular, in our justice system that must be addressed and must be ended." Clinton would continue the policing commissioner that President Obama impaneled, but she offered no additional specifics. To be fair, policing is a local issue and it's hard for the federal government to come up with a solution to what has become institutionalized violence and racism.
O'Malley, as a governor and former mayor, has dealt with these issues on the local level. Baltimore continues to have substantial racial divides, but O'Malley said he was able to bring people together to reduce crime. As governor, he touted his success reducing violent crime but also reducing incarceration rates. "So it is possible actually, to find the things that actually work, that we did, increasing drug treatment, using big data to better protect the lives of young people, cut juvenile crime in half, and it's also possible to improve how we police our police," he said. Another tenet of his plan is to mandate that every county document and track any and all incidents of police brutality.
Sanders used this question as an opportunity to agree with what was said by the other candidates, but also emphasized the America's broken prison system -- which locks up people of color in greater numbers. He wants a movement to eradicate racism entirely. Sanders says this "means that police officers should not be shooting unarmed people, predominantly African-Americans." Our drug policy must also change and we have to focus more on treatment than incarceration, Sanders said. He also wants to see marijuana removed from the Controlled Substance Act. So that it will no longer be a federal crime. It's rare that Sanders touts his time as a mayor, but he did here talking about the ways in which is town created "community policing" focusing on the protect and serve aspect of being integrated into the community instead of an oppressive force
While there were many other issues discussed, these will be the major reasons that Democrats win in 2016. They're addressing issues that matter to a significant portion of the population and providing specifics on plans to fix them. From students to people of color to working families and those concerned for our safety, these were real and honest answers that voters can search through instead of hyperbole and bravado.