Any presidential debate that involves Bernie Sanders is going to have its share of offbeat moments. But Tuesday night offered a little bit of nuttiness from everyone.
Combing through the transcript of the debate, I found these 25 head-scratchers.
Let the crazy flow.
1. “My name is Martin O’Malley, former Mayor of Baltimore.”
Really, do you want anyone to vote for you? It’s a credential he ought to bury, but instead they were the first words out of his mouth.
As Anderson Cooper asked, in an obvious follow-up question, “Why should Americans trust you with the country when they see what’s going on in the city that you ran for more than seven years?”
It was not, but should be, a rhetorical question.
2. “I have a range of views.”
This is the kernel of Hillary Clinton’s delightfully deranged answer to the question, “Do you change your political identity based on who you’re talking to?” Here is the longer version: “No. I think that, like most people that I know, I have a range of views, but they are rooted in my values and my experience.”
But saying you have “a range of views” is just a way of saying “yes” to the question. It reminds me of the old Groucho Marx line: “These are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others.”
Much later in the debate, she offered this description of her evolving views. “Well, you know, everybody on this stage has changed a position or two. We’ve been around a cumulative quite some period of time. You know, we know that if you are learning, you’re gonna change your position. I never took a position on Keystone until I took a position on Keystone.”
That really clears it up.
3. “The question is really about electability.”
This was Anderson Cooper’s explanation of why he was asking Bernie Sanders about being a socialist.
Think that out. A leading candidate for the presidential nomination of one of the two big political parties is a self-declared socialist—and the only reason that’s an issue is because he might not be electable? Shouldn’t the real issue be that he is devoted to an economic system that has failed repeatedly?
Cooper goes on to explain: “The Republican attack ad against you in a general election, it writes itself. You supported the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. You honeymooned in the Soviet Union. And just this weekend, you said you’re not a capitalist. Doesn’t that ad write itself?” Pitching this as a question about attacks ads and electability allowed Sanders to respond with an answer about voter turnout, and then go on to say, “I believe in a society where all people do well.” (Meanwhile, in Venezuela’s socialist system, government officials are urging a starving population to eat fried rocks.)
To heck with voter turnout. Shouldn’t the issue here be Senator Sanders’s cozy relations with Communist tyrants, not the ads Republicans are going to run?
4. “Bernie Sanders has a D-minus voting rating from the NRA.”
This was said by Bernie Sanders, who referred to himself that way several other times during the debate.
Talking about yourself in the third person is the first sign, man.
5. “We have to respect the tradition in this country of people who want to defend themselves.”
Jim Webb said this in an exchange about gun control, and there’s nothing crazy about the content of this quote. What’s crazy is where he said it: at a Democratic primary debate.
Every other candidate, showing that they are in touch with today’s Democratic base, boasted about pushing for more gun control, with only one small concession. Martin O’Malley talked about “hunting traditions” in rural Western Maryland, while Bernie Sanders said, “I come from a rural state, and the views on gun control in rural states are different than in urban states, whether we like it or not.” Which is a great way to tell people you are ashamed of your home state.
But Webb talked specifically about the right to own a gun for self-defense.
Here’s the full quote. “We have to respect the tradition in this country of people who want to defend themselves and their family from violence…. There are people at high levels in this government who have bodyguards 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The average American does not have that, and deserves the right to be able to protect their family.”
That’s a great point, and a particularly nice dig at Hillary Clinton, who has those 24-7 bodyguards. It would have gotten a big round of applause—at a Republican debate.
6. “We’re not coming to take away your guns, we believe in the Second Amendment.”
That was from Lincoln Chafee.
But it comes after a week in which President Obama praised Australia’s gun control law, the centerpiece of which was universal confiscation—i.e., taking away our guns. And it comes after years’ worth of hot takes about how the Second Amendment protects only state militias, a view that is the consensus on the left. So they obviously do want to take our guns, and they don’t believe in the Second Amendment as a protection for individual ownership of guns.
Which implies that Lincoln Chafee thinks we’re stupid.
7. “Iraq, the worst foreign policy blunder in the history of this country.”
The worst, like, ever? Really?
That came from Bernie Sanders. Martin O’Malley dialed it back to “one of the worst blunders in modern American history.” But Lincoln Chafee dialed it back up: “the worst decision in American history.” Firing on Fort Sumter is presumably a distant second.
Incidentally, this is going to be a surprise to a whole generation of aging leftists, who were raised to believe the Vietnam War was the worst blunder in history.
8. “He valued my judgment.”
When grilled about her vote to authorize the Iraq War—the Worst Decision in History—Hillary pulled out what she clearly regarded as a trump card: President Obama values her judgment on foreign policy.
I recall very well being on a debate stage, I think, about 25 times with then-Senator Obama, debating this very issue. After the election, he asked me to become Secretary of State. He valued my judgment, and I spent a lot of time with him in the Situation Room, going over some very difficult issues.
You have to be pretty desperate to shore up doubts about your foreign policy judgment by referring to your role in a foreign policy that is now crashing down around President Obama’s ears.
Ah, but if there’s one thing we learned from Tuesday’s debate, it’s that Democrats don’t think the current foreign policy disaster is all that big a problem.
9. “I think Assad’s invasion of Syria will be seen as a blunder.”
Umm, whose invasion? Bashar al-Assad cannot be described as “invading” a country his family has ruled since 1971. Perhaps Martin O’Malley was confused and thinking of Vladimir Putin as the “invader”? But Putin was invited in to support Assad and has not yet committed ground troops. That we know of.
But the really crazy thing O’Malley said about our foreign policy in Syria is: “I support President Obama.” Hardly anyone does, least of all his own top advisors, who are deserting the sinking ship.
10. “I think he’s already regretting what he did in Crimea.”
This was Bernie Sanders, commenting on Vladimir Putin. It’s not just the improbable image of the cold, dead-eyed dictator of Russia as the kind of guy who dwells on regrets. This was part of Sanders’ fairy-tale version of how Russian aggression is going to be stopped.
I think he’s already regretting what he did in Crimea and what he is doing in the Ukraine. I think he is really regretting the decline of his economy. And I think what he is trying to do now is save some face. But I think when Russians get killed in Syria and when he gets bogged down, I think the Russian people are going to give him a message that maybe they should come home, maybe they should start working with the United States to rectify the situation now.
And then we’ll all hold hands and sing “Kumbaya.”
11. “It all started with the Iraq invasion.”
In response to a question about the greatest national security threat to the United States, Lincoln Chafee responded, “It’s certainly the chaos in the Middle East. There’s no doubt about it.” And that is what he thinks “all started with the Iraq invasion.”
Because the Middle East was never chaotic before 2003.
12. “The planet…may well not be habitable.”
Global warming alarmism is one thing. But Bernie Sanders turned it up to eleven: “The scientific community is telling us that if we do not address the global crisis of climate change, transform our energy system away from fossil fuel to sustainable energy, the planet that we’re going to be leaving our kids and our grandchildren may well not be habitable.”
The most dire scientific predictions call for a warming of a few degrees by the end of this century, and (supposedly) some flooding and droughts and hurricanes and “extreme weather.” But none of them predicts that the Earth will become uninhabitable, and that would be very strange given that global temperature have already gone through very big swings up and down, mostly down, during the time modern humans have inhabited the planet.
13. “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn e-mails.”
So you go into the debate as the insurgent gaining on the establishment candidate in the polls. And she has a huge weakness: she is actually under investigation by the FBI for mishandling classified information. When asked about it, she provides a huge opening by saying, “I have been as transparent as I know to be.” Which is admirably exact: this is as transparent as she knows how to be.
So what do you do?
Well, you could take full advantage of the scandal, telling America that this is why Hillary Clinton can’t be trusted. Or maybe you decide you don’t want to alienate her supporters, or that too many of your voters watch MSNBC and read the New York Times and believe the scandal is fake, so you don’t want to hit the issue too hard. After all, when your opponent is heading over the cliff, why get in the way?
Or, if you’re Bernie Sanders, you could basically cut an ad for her. You can declare, “Enough of the e-mails. Let’s talk about the real issues facing America.”
And thus you completely remove the issue from the campaign.
Tuesday night is when we learned that Bernie Sanders is just a tomato can. That’s a term for a mediocre boxer sent into the ring against a former champion making a comeback. He’s just there to get bloodied and beaten for 15 rounds and give the champ an easy win.
That’s the question with Sanders. Is he really fighting to win? Because it doesn’t look like it when he gives his opponent cover on her most embarrassing issue.
14. “Do black lives matter, or do all lives matter?”
This was from a questioner whose name was never clearly given.
In no sane party is this considered a legitimate question. It’s the kind of bizarre false alternative that can only be produced by the Democrats’ twisted racial politics.
15. “I want to make sure every single person in this country has the same opportunities that [Bill] and I have had.”
The opportunity to cash out for hundreds of millions of dollars because you served in political office? The opportunity to charge $225,000 for a single speech? Thanks, Hillary!
16. “I went to Wall Street in December of 2007—before the big crash that we had—and I basically said, ‘cut it out!'”
Did you know that Hillary Clinton called the big crash in 2008, and she tried to warn everybody about it, and they just wouldn’t listen?
Yeah, that was news to me, too.
17. “Glass-Steagall was my very first vote.”
It’s a good thing Lincoln Chafee never had any chance of being the nominee, because he disqualified himself with his explanation of why he voted in 1999 to repeal Glass-Steagall, a law that limited the activities of banks. Its repeal has since become the left’s favorite fall guy for the financial crisis. So how did Chafee defend his vote? By pleading incompetence. “Glass-Steagall was my very first vote, I’d just arrived, my dad had died in office, I was appointed to the office, it was my very first vote…. It was the first vote and it was 90-5, because it was a conference report.”
Watch the whole exchange, but stretch your cringing muscles first, because they’re going to get a workout.
18. “I think being the first woman president would be quite a change from the presidents we’ve had up until this point, including President Obama.”
That was Hillary’s response to how she would be different from Barack Obama.
If you’re asked that question, and all you can think of is that you’re a girl, you basically have no answer.
19. “The only way we really transform America…is through a political revolution.”
Remember that part about Bernie Sanders hanging out with socialist dictators? That’s what makes this quote so creepy. It doesn’t really get any better in context.
I believe that the power of corporate America, the power of Wall Street, the power of the drug companies, the power of the corporate media is so great that the only way we really transform America and do the things that the middle class and working class desperately need is through a political revolution when millions of people begin to come together and stand up and say: Our government is going to work for all of us, not just a handful of billionaires.
Jim Webb, seeming once again as if he had wandered into the wrong debate, gave the best reply: “Bernie, I don’t think the revolution’s going to come. And I don’t think the Congress is going to pay for a lot of this stuff.”
20. “I am the only candidate running for president who is not a billionaire.”
Donald Trump is in fact a billionaire, and the Clintons have cashed in so astronomically that they’re getting there. But nobody else is even close. This quote can only be attributed to reflex, given that Sanders used the word “billionaire” about a billion times during the debate.
21. “Move America forward to a 100 percent clean electric grid by 2050.”
The administration’s Clean Power Plan is a utopian absurdity, and it only proposes to replace a third of the country’s electrical generating capacity with wind and solar power. Martin O’Malley wants to replace all of it. He did not say how he would do this, except that he would increase tax credits for wind and solar. Which is to say that he has absolutely no idea.
22. “I know we can afford it, because we’re going to make the wealthy pay for it.”
Late in the debate, after the candidates had ticked off one freebie after another that they were going to provide to the American people, Dana Bash asked what was probably the best question of the night: “Really? Another government program? Is that what you’re proposing? And at the expense of taxpayer money?”
Hillary Clinton responded: “We should not be paralyzed—we should not be paralyzed by the Republicans and their constant refrain, ‘big government this, big government that’…. I know we can afford it, because we’re going to make the wealthy pay for it.” Because no one has ever thought of this idea before.
Let’s just say that it has been a long time since her husband proclaimed, “The era of big government is over.”
23. “I’m running for president to end the wars…. I am a proven peacemaker.”
So, um, exactly where does Lincoln Chafee think we’re going to be fighting in 2017? Because right now, our only war is in Afghanistan, and President Obama is supposedly winding it down. As for ending wars in general, recent events make that seem a little delusional.
24. “Talk to our young people under 30, because you’ll never find among them people that want to bash immigrants or people that want to deny rights to gay couples.”
That was Martin O’Malley, fantasizing about a future in which there is no political opposition because nobody under the age of 30 is ever going to disagree with the Democratic agenda. After all, they’re the party of youth!
Meanwhile, O’Malley was the only person on stage under the age of 65.
25. “I’d have to say the enemy soldier that threw the grenade that wounded me, but he’s not around right now to talk to.”
This was also the most awesome thing that was said during the debate. It was Jim Webb’s response to a question about who was the candidate’s “favorite enemy.”
He was referring to this little incident, for which he receive the Navy Cross.
It would have earned him another big round of applause, except that Webb once again found himself the wrong debate.
As did we all.