Artwork by SARAH FERGUSON
BY BEN LEHMAN After a summer plagued by an email scandal and declining favorability, Hillary Clinton has lately been surging in the polls and reestablishing herself as the Democratic frontrunner for the nomination. Her strong performance in the first debate and a successful Benghazi hearing combined to form a powerful resurgence, thus putting pressure on her opponents to defeat her in Saturday’s debate in Iowa. However, Clinton once again demonstrated her formidable political skills and emerged from the debate unscathed.
Topics of the debate ranged from the minimum wage to gun control to healthcare. However, because of the tragic events in Paris Friday night, a significant portion of the debate was dedicated to foreign policy issues and combating terrorism. Clinton used this shift to her advantage, showcasing her experiences as Secretary of State and her vast foreign policy knowledge. Hillary successfully distinguished herself from rivals Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, both of whom severely lack experience in the international arena. The former Secretary emphasized traditional threats such as China and Russia, along with the ever-growing threat of ISIS. Her opponents, however, took the opportunity to point out failures such as the intervention in Libya that occurred during her time in office.
While Hillary managed to take shots of her own, many directed at Republicans, criticizing her seemed to be the major theme of the debate as both Senator Sanders and Governor O’Malley launched aggressive attacks. However, the former Secretary of State remained composed and brushed off criticisms directed at her, often earning applause from the audience for her responses. Clinton’s cool demeanor was a marked contrast to Sanders, who at times became visibly red-faced and agitated, and it showed that she’s ready to handle Republican attacks in the general election.
The Vermont Senator did not hold back with his attacks on Clinton, choosing to hone in on her role in the “disastrous” invasion of Iraq and her questionable ties to Wall Street. In defense, Clinton claimed her ties with Wall Street stemmed from the attacks of 9/11 and the need to rebuild the financial sector, prompting a significant backlash on social media. Debate moderators had Clinton respond to a twitter user who condemned her statement, but Clinton deflected further, saying she receives donations from people of “all kinds of backgrounds.” But this blunder was a major one for Clinton, and she’ll have to do better if she wants to defend herself against the Republicans.
Sanders went on to suggest that politicians like Clinton are beholden to big money interests, prompting Clinton to hit back, claiming Sanders was “impugning” her “integrity.” O’Malley similarly ripped Hillary’s associations with Wall Street at every opportunity. Absent Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb, the Maryland Governor found more time in the spotlight this time around. He used the opportunity to highlight his successes as Governor of Maryland such as implementing a healthcare system and gun control measures. O’Malley focused on setting himself apart from his rivals, portraying himself as a younger alternative to the “polarizing figures of the past.” His efforts were admirable, but unlikely to spark much momentum in his struggling campaign.
Debate over fiscal policy and the economy highlighted some of the major differences among the candidates. Bernie Sanders continued his aggressively populist proposals to tax the wealthy, break up the banks, and provide free public college tuition. While Sanders shows his policies work in countries in Northern Europe, Hillary provides more centrist policies with a liberal twist. She proves herself to be a progressive, but a pragmatic one who can get things done. After a civil first debate, both Sanders and O’Malley came prepared to go on the attack. But in spite of this, Hillary’s frontrunner status remains largely unchanged. Indeed, it seems the political community has chosen its Democratic nominee, and she has a clear path to victory.