Monday, January 18, 2016

Debate Wars- Trump:Cruz; Clinton:Sanders

In two debates, the Republicans and Democrats battled it out prior to the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. The Democratic race has tightened up a bit whereas Donald Trump has begun shoring up his support amongst likely Republican voters. Still, both debates offered insight into candidates, the two parties, and the mood of the country.

The rise of Senator Ted Cruz in the Republican race seems to have unsettled the establishment even more than the rise of Trump has done. A coalescing behind a single establishment candidate to unseat or challenge Trump prior to votes being cast seems a distant dream to candidates like governors Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and John Kasich. Dr. Ben Carson seemed to nearly sleep through the debate, chiming in brief, awkward moments.

Senators Marco Rubio and Cruz sparred often. Despite landing a couple well rehearsed lines, Rubio seemed not up to the task of besting Cruz, a self-acknowledged master debater. Cruz also wrestled with Trump. Cruz gift-wrapped Trump’s best moment during any of the previous debates and possibly his signature moment of the entire campaign by caricaturing Trump as having New York values. Trump’s response was as iconic as it was American, referencing 9/11, the fall of the World Trade Center, the smell of death for months, and the amazing resilience of the people of New York in the aftermath.

On stage, Cruz won the natural born citizen question that looms over his candidacy. However, lingering constitutional questions remain considering his once dual citizenship and birth in Canada. 

Trump and Cruz had their best nights, with Christie and Kasich fighting for prominence in the waning establishment lane. Rubio seems to lack stamina and consistency. Carson’s campaign is over, and Bush’s might as well be.

The Democratic debate was the most contentious and combative yet between Secretary Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders. Supporters for both candidates will undoubtedly find their performances bested the other. That being said, this debate gave Sanders many opportunities, some of which will either make or tank his campaign hopes.

Prior to the debate, Sanders changed his position on immunity for gun manufacturers and unveiled his new healthcare plan, both of which the Clinton campaign had been demanding from him for days. This rightly created a great deal of energy and focus on Sanders throughout the night. It also opened himself up for potential criticism as likely Democrat voters examine his plans and policies more closely.

One of Sanders primary narratives has been his consistency in policy positions. Therefore, changing positions on guns, may take away that aura of wonder about his candidacy. Also, his healthcare plan maybe difficult to explain, challenges voters to grapple with healthcare reform yet again, and includes taxes that seem ambiguous, complex, and can easily be misconstrued and mischaracterized. But, he has a plan. 

Clinton shined a bright spotlight on all of these potential points of contention without becoming lost in the details. Also, she opened up a new line of attack on Sanders by painting him as being too similar to congressional Republicans in wanting to dismantle the Obama agenda. However, knowing if she successfully balanced challenging Sanders and his positions, as he’s risen in the polls in both Iowa and nationally, without alienating all of his passionate voters has yet to be seen.

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Truly, this debate certainly sparked more interest than any of the previous Democratic debates. Neither Clinton nor Sanders will likely lose support immediately. The real movement in the next two weeks will be with independents and Sanders-leaning supporters who don’t identify as socialist as well as those voters who began moving toward supporting him in the last month. 

Should be an exciting couple of weeks in both the Republican race as well as for the Democrats. Cruz was surging in Iowa, but his Canadian birth issue may break his momentum. Iowa is a real tossup in both parties. Regardless of polls, both Iowa and New Hampshire tend to break late. 

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