For the first time in the 2016 election cycle, two presidential hopefuls stood mano a mano on a stage before a nationally televised audience scuffling at one another as Wednesday’s Democratic MSNBC debate showed the contrast between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
The moderators, NBC Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd and left-leaning MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, sat back and let the two candidates go after one another on each other’s progressive credentials. And for much of the two-hour debate, Clinton and Sanders argued over who would be the Democratic Party agenda's champion.
Sanders has attacked Clinton on taking contributions from representatives from Wall Street, and taking speaking fees from investment groups. Sanders said coming into Thursday’s debate that a progressive would not take funds from Wall Street leaders.
Clinton fired back on Thursday.
“I am a progressive who gets things done,” she said on MSNBC. “I've heard Senator Sanders comments, and it's really caused me to wonder who's left in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Under his definition, President Obama is not progressive because he took donations from Wall Street; Vice President Biden is not progressive because she supported Keystone”
Sanders believes that Obama’s work in the White House is enough to classify the outgoing two-term president as a progressive.
“I think if we remember where this country was seven years ago, 800,000 jobs being lost every month, $1.4 trillion dollar deficit,” Sanders said during the MSNBC debate. “The world's financial system on the verge of collapse. I think that President Obama, Vice President Biden, and the Democratic leadership in the House and the Senate have done a fantastic job.”
Clinton argued that Sanders would dismantle Obama’s signature Affordable Healthcare Law, a claim the Clinton has made in past debates.
“Senator Sanders wants us to start all over again,” Clinton said. “This was a major achievement of President Obama, of our country. It is helping people right now.”
Sanders scuffed at that notion.
“I do believe that in the future, not by dismantling what we have here -- I helped write that bill -- but by moving forward, rallying the American people, I do believe we should have health care for all,” Sanders said.
Sanders and Clinton emerged out of Monday’s Iowa caucuses in a virtual tie, as Clinton narrowly defeated Sanders by .3 percent. Following Monday’s caucuses, Martin O’Malley dropped out of the race.
In recent GOP debates, Sanders and Clinton were mentioned dozens of times. In Thursday’s Democratic debate, the names of GOP candidates only came up twice; both times candidates mentioned GOP front-runner Donald Trump.
The first instance was when Clinton rebutted Sanders’ proposal for free collegiate education. Clinton said she did not want American taxpayers to pay for Trump’s children’s education. Sanders brought up Trump’s name later in the debate as he claimed he would defeat Trump in a general election.
Later in the debate, Sanders was challenged on his lack of foreign policy experience. He conceded that he had less experience as Clinton, the former secretary of state, but claimed experience was not the only factor.
“Back in 2002, when we both looked at the same evidence about the wisdom of the war in Iraq, one of us voted the right way and one of us didn't,” Sanders said, referring to Clinton’s vote in approval of the Iraq war.
There were moments when Sanders and Clinton agreed on the issues. Both Sanders and Clinton praised Obama for a recent nuclear deal with Iran. The two also agreed that campaign finance should be reformed.