Behind the lies of Congressman George Santos. Diane talks to the owner of the small weekly paper that first broke the story, and a Washington Post journalist who is following the money to see who financed Santos's political rise.
Five presidential candidates faced off last night in Las Vegas in the first Democratic debate. Frontrunner Hillary Clinton challenged Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on gun control, his plan to break up the banks, and on national security. Sanders responded, saying Clinton’s no-fly-zone in Syria was a bad idea and criticizing the former senator for her Iraq war vote. But the two found common ground on the issue of Hillary’s emails, which both agreed weren’t worth talking about. Diane and guests analyze last night’s event and what it could mean for the rest of the 2016 race.
- Stuart Rothenberg Editor and publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report; columnist, Roll Call
- Margie Omero Democratic strategist, Purple Strategies and co-host of the podcast, "The Pollsters"
- Domenico Montanaro Lead political editor, NPR
- Steve Sebelius Political columnist, Las Vegas Review-Journal and political analyst, 8 News Now
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Five presidential hopefuls took center stage last night in Las Vegas, Nevada, for the first Democratic debate. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton challenged Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders on a range of issue, including gun control, national security and his approach to bank regulation.
MS. DIANE REHMHere to discuss last night's debate and implications for the Democratic presidential campaign, Stuart Rothenberg of The Rothenberg Political Report, Domenico Montanaro of NPR and Margie Omero, a Democratic strategist with Purple Strategies. Also joining us from Las Vegas, Steve Sebelius, he's political columnist for the Las Vegas Review Journal.
MS. DIANE REHMI'd like to hear your comments, your thoughts about last night's debate. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And thank you all for being with us.
MR. STUART ROTHENBERGThank you so much.
MR. DOMENICO MONTANARONice to be with you.
MS. MARGIE OMEROGood morning.
REHMSteve Sebelius, are you there?
MR. STEVE SEBELIUSI am indeed, Diane. Thanks for having me on. I appreciate it.
REHMI'm glad. Give us a sense of what the atmosphere was like last night for that first Democratic debate.
SEBELIUSWell, it was quite electric. There was a big crowd in that Wynn Las Vegas room. We had everybody, including Mr. Wynn himself, who was seen wandering the hallways with an entourage, smoking a very fine cigar, the odor of which followed him throughout the hallway. But after the debate, there was even a scrum that rivaled, I guess, some celebrities. A photographer who was sitting next to me said he's covered celebrities for years and he has never seen a scrum like the one he did surrounding Bernie Sanders of Vermont, if you can believe that.
SEBELIUSThis 74-year-old United States senator rivaling the crowds, he said, of a celebrity. So it was quite a spectacle as you might expect in Las Vegas.
REHMStuart Rothenberg, how important is the state of Nevada?
ROTHENBERGWell, it's one of the 10 or 11 swing states in a national presidential race and for the Democratic party, it's an early contest, one of the first four contests so I think it deserves a lot of attention. It's a state with some significant voting groups, Hispanics, for example. Organized labor is a big group in Nevada. So in terms of Democrats, both in their nomination contests, but more broadly in terms of electing a president, Nevada is the state to watch.
REHMDomenico, how did Hillary Clinton do in that state?
MONTANAROYeah, and I was going to say, aside from the idea of Nevada, it's pretty interesting that they didn't actually talk much about local issues at all. I mean, this is the first kick-off debate and really it was an introduction to a lot of the broader Democratic base. In fact, they even talked about, you know, hitting casinos for, you know, banks operating like casinos and yet, no one seemed to mention that they happened to be in a place where...
REHMIn a casino.
MONTANARO... (unintelligible) you know. But Hillary Clinton, of course, this was an important debate for her. She had a lot of things that she needed to -- questions that she needed to answer and stylistically, I think, came out ahead and did herself a favor last night.
REHMAnd Steve Sebelius, do you have any idea how closely Nevadans were watching that debate?
SEBELIUSWell, I think it definitely captured a lot of the local attention. The Wynn marquee, which normally advertises the restaurants and shows at the Wynn, was dominated by the CNN logo and I think a lot of people here were paying attention to this. A lot of people are still surprised that Nevada's getting so much attention. But as Stuart pointed out, this is one of the early caucus states, thanks to the efforts of Harry Reid and the Senate to move Nevada up in the caucus process.
SEBELIUSAnd so a lot of people here get an advantage that they don't get in other states, which is to see a lot of these candidates up close when they come to visit.
REHMMargie Omero, CNN got some criticism for who they asked questions of. How come?
OMEROWell, I think when you have a debate, you have a variety of candidates trying to get air time. For some of these candidates, it's the most they'll be able to communicate with primary voters. So there's always going to be some disagreement or some hard feelings somewhere. And the Republican debate, this has been particularly problematic because there are so many candidates you can't fit them all on the stage. They rely heavily on polling. You don't have that quite as dramatic here on the Democratic side.
OMEROBut nonetheless, it makes sense for the top candidates to get a little bit more air time. And I think you saw that in terms of the amount of time that Sanders and Clinton had to talk. And O'Malley had a good amount of airtime as well. I mean, the fact that Chaffey and Webb had a little bit less airtime, I think it matches where they are standing in the polls and it matches, frankly, probably where they're headed.
REHMAnd Jim Webb complained, Stu Rothenberg.
ROTHENBERGYeah, there always seems to be somebody complaining and, you know, they have ground to complain when you look at the airtime. There are differences. But I think Margie's got it exactly right. Look, we can create the fallacy that these guys are all starting at the same place and they all have the same chance, but they just don't. Hillary Clinton is likely to be the nominee. Bernie Sanders has run the kind of race that gets him -- he deserves to have attention.
ROTHENBERGThe other three certainly are in a far, further behind place. And, you know, they've got to earn some attention, I think.
REHMOverall, Domenico, how interesting was the debate?
MONTANAROYou know, these debates, I kind of feel like have been going on a little too long. I think people are trying to, you know, use what they can to be able to, you know, get advertisers to pay up, but, you know, the last half hour of that debate just felt like it was kind of dragging a bit. I mean, you know, two hours, luckily it wasn't three hours like the Republican debate, 90 minutes tends to feel like a good sweet spot for some of these guys.
REHMWhat did you think, Margie?
OMEROWell, I guess, as a Democrat, I thought it was very interesting. I mean, maybe I'm not a good gauge of where the average voter -- how they feel about all these hours of debates since this is what I do for a living and I stay up till the end. But I think Democrats watched this debate and felt energized, even if they had one candidate in particular they were supporting because it was so civil, because people were so welcoming, talking about other groups and how we come together as a country, not this slugfest and shouty, you know, viral confrontation strategy that you see on the Republican side.
OMEROThe Democratic side was really very wonky and civil and I think Democrats, as a whole, found that really refreshing.
REHMHow do you feel?
ROTHENBERGI think it was the first debate so there was some added excitement there. We hadn't seen how the candidates would interact with one another on stage. That was interesting. Bernie's personality is, of course, huge. Secretary Clinton brings with her years of coverage. That was -- so I thought, as a first debate, it was fine. I think Domenico's question really, for me, is when we get to the third debate and the fourth debate, will we learn anything new?
ROTHENBERGIs it just about debating skills and who gets in a punchline or a funny line or not? And so the first few, okay, but I'm a little concerned as this drags on whether we'll learn much.
MONTANAROYeah, it's -- yeah, right. It's hard to see how five more debates, you're going to learn anything different. You know, from what last night -- I mean, if you were to replay that debate last night and you're a Democratic voter looking to make a decision, you pretty much got it last night, you know. You saw stylistically what Hillary Clinton will do and what she'll do every time. You got most of the issue out of the way.
MONTANAROYou saw what Bernie Sanders stands for, that core economic message, and he will continue to say the same thing.
ROTHENBERGYes, yes, but Domenico, you know, one thing these debates are about, are often about mistakes, somebody says the wrong thing, the wrong word, offends somebody and that creates a whole controversy.
MONTANAROKeep them on stage longer.
ROTHENBERGWhich is another problem with our coverage these days.
OMEROI think they could've talked a little bit more about education. That was a topic that wasn't covered or there was not a whole lot and I'm not sure if there was a question.
ROTHENBERGThere was some healthcare.
OMEROHealthcare or a woman's right to choose. Secretary Clinton brought it up, but that wasn't...
REHMShe did bring it up.
OMEROShe brought it up, but there wasn't a direct question on it so I think there are some issues that a lot of Democratic-based voters would want to hear more about.
REHMSteve, what about the people in the audience in that casino? Did they seem engaged? Did they fall asleep? What were they doing?
SEBELIUSNo. They were very engaged as you heard through the night with the applause, which is, you know, something unusual. Normally, the debate audience is encouraged not to applaud and to not interrupt, but this audience was very raucous and interrupted frequently with applause and cheers for lines that they liked. And so I thought you saw that audience -- I won't say every bit as engaged as what is normally in that theater, because that is the (word?) Theater and it's a great show that's going on.
SEBELIUSSo almost as engaged as the show that's normally going on there.
REHMInteresting. Steve, what about the so-called Santa Claus figure. There was so much speculation about him.
ROTHENBERGJoe Biden in hiding?
REHMYeah. That's what the joke became, but what about him, Steve?
SEBELIUSWell, you know, if Joe Biden was watching this debate, as I suspect he might've been, looking for some weaknesses, looking to see maybe Hillary is just not going to be able to pull this thing off, I think he was probably dissuaded by last night. I think she had a great night. They were not able -- the tag team of Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders together on either side of her were not able to really show any cracks in her armor.
SEBELIUSThey didn't get her to move to -- very far to her left and I think Joe Biden probably saw somebody who wasn't going to let this go without a fight. As she said, I'm still standing.
REHMSteve Sebelius, he's political columnist for the Las Vegas Review Journal. We'll take a short break here. Your calls, your comments, your reaction to the debate last night when we come back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about last night's debate, not so much who were the winners, who were the losers but trying to get to what information we got out of that debate. There were some subjects covered well. For example, Bernie Sanders brought up the banks, the idea that banking ought to go back to the way it used to be, separating, the banks' functions. Hillary Clinton disagreed with that. There were charges of, of course, Hillary voted in favor of the Iraq War. She commented that she's learned a lot since then.
REHMHere in the studio, Stu Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report. He's also a columnist for Roll Call. Domenico Montanaro, lead political editor for NPR. Margie Omero, she's Democratic strategist, and she's at Purple Strategies and co-host of the podcast "The Pollsters." Steve Sebelius is on the line with us. He's political columnist at the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
REHMDomenico, just before last night's debate, an internal memo from then-Senator Barack Obama's 2007 campaign surfaced. What was it about? What did it say?
MONTANAROWell, I'm shocked to hear that there was a campaign between President Obama, now President Obama and Hillary Clinton and that someone was trying to beat someone else. I mean, this is just shocking news.
REHMYou're shocked, shocked, shocked.
MONTANAROYeah, exactly. You know, everyone kind of...
REHMThis was from Ryan Lizza in the New Yorker.
MONTANAROIn the New Yorker, breaking, you know, what he'd had this memo that he had seen from 2007. Now that showed how to beat Hillary Clinton, and part of it was on character. And this is not surprising at all to anyone who covered the campaign. Parts of this memo had been known for some time. I think it made for an awkward moment for the Clinton campaign, given that they have so many Barack Obama staffers now on their team, including their pollster, Joel Benenson, who did a great job for Obama and is now there, and Jen Palmieri, who is one of the communications advisors for Hillary Clinton, even said so on air, that, like, well, this will make for an awkward meeting with Joel.
MONTANAROBut, you know, not really. I mean, everyone knows, as Mitt Romney said, politics ain't beanbags or whatever.
REHMYeah, yeah, whatever. Stu Rothenberg, one of the signal moments of the debate came when the idea of Hillary's emails came up. What happened?
ROTHENBERGWell, Senator Sanders, as was being described as threw her a lifeline by saying full-throated, in a full-throated way, look, enough of this let's move on to issues. And the response was, wow, this was shocking. I don't really think it was shocking for Bernie Sanders. I think it's who he is. You have to remember he is driven by issues and ideology and a worldview, and he wants to talk about issues.
ROTHENBERGHe believes that the rest of the country supports his views about banks and Wall Street and rich people and taxes and corruption and money in politics, and many Democrats do, many Americans do. So he is -- he just -- he wants to discuss issues. That's where he thinks he can educate people, and while I think he's happy to benefit politically from the issue of Secretary Clinton's emails, I wasn't surprised that he said it's about issues. That's...
REHMHe's an honest man.
ROTHENBERGThat's what -- that's what he says. I'm not disputing it, Diane, but he is certainly a believer in ideology and issues, and that's what he wants to talk about.
REHMSteve Sebelius, what was the reaction in the room when he said let's move on?
SEBELIUSThat I think was the seminal moment of the entire debate. The crowd went wild. They cheered him when he said it. I think everybody in that room agreed. There was even a bit of boisterous cheer that went up in the filing center, where I was watching that portion of the debate. But, you know, it's interesting. I agree with Stuart. This is who he is. Bernie Sanders was asked this very same question months ago, in fact almost a year ago by a former colleague of mine at the Review-Journal, who put the question to him in a very small, two-on-one interview that we were doing.
SEBELIUSAnd she asked, do Americans care, do people care about Hillary's emails. His immediate response was no, let's talk about the issues, almost exactly what he said last night. So he hasn't changed a bit on that, and now it seems that more and more people are kind of coming around to his point of view on that subject.
REHMGo ahead, Margie.
OMEROYeah, absolutely, you also saw that come up in the focus groups that CNN did after the debate and that Fox did, as well, you saw a lot of people say I agree with that, that makes a lot of sense to me, that, you know, I don't care, well, let's move on, let's talk about the issues because ultimately people want to have an election where they feel the candidates are focused on them and what they can do for them, and the email issues is -- does not affect people in their day-to-day life, and the other issues that came up in the debate yesterday did.
OMEROSo I think Sanders, in what didn't seem like a rehearsed line, gave voice to something that a lot of people feel.
SEBELIUSI think it's really important to remember this was a Democratic debate with a Democratic audience. Hillary Clinton's poll numbers among Democrats are still quite good. They like her. Their general view is let's move on to other things. If this -- if there were Republicans in the crowd, or possibly independents, we might have had a different reaction.
REHMAnd what about what this debate could mean for Vice President Joe Biden, Domenico?
MONTANAROI think it probably makes it less likely that he gets in. I mean...
MONTANAROWell, because Hillary Clinton had a very strong debate. Bernie Sanders did fine on his own, as well. And I think that the room for Biden, when really it seems like he's waiting for Clinton to implode to give himself an opportunity to move in, she showed again why she is a strong debater, and she's pretty solid on the issues.
REHMWhat do you think, Margie?
OMEROI mean, I think Biden can continue to look at this as a half-glass-full, half -- you know, glass-half-empty kind of situation. If he was looking at this before the debate and saying, well, I don't know about that Secretary Clinton, she may be, you know, there may be an opening here for me, that would be a mistake because she's always been a strong candidate, she's always been a strong candidate in the Democratic primary, and he has a lot of hurdles now given the timing where he is and the infrastructure he needs. So does this debate now make it a little bit harder for him? Perhaps, but if he has the will to enter and the will to go through the difficulty of gearing up so quickly, you know, he, you know, he'd find a way to do it either way.
ROTHENBERGI agree with my colleagues. I think that there's a perceived less need for him to come in to save the Democratic Party. Hillary Clinton looked to me as though she'd be a pretty strong nominee, and as Domenico said, Senator Sanders I think represented himself quite well. So yeah, I probably think this takes the pressure off the vice president.
REHMSteve Sebelius, there were five Democratic candidates on the stage last night. How many do you expect to be at the next debate?
SEBELIUSWell, that's a great question. I think poor Senator Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee may not be joining us in the future only because, you know, as we've discussed, they're not all starting from the same place, they're not all very well-known. In fact some of them probably were introduced to the voters for the first time on a national stage last night. So I think you're really going to see this race come down to Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton with -- you know, Martin O'Malley's going to try to stay on. Last night was his chance to shine, and I think he got a little bit of attention from that. But whether or not he can stay in is still an open question, too. I think this is going to be a two-person race, and one of those persons is probably not going to be the vice president.
REHMAnd Steve Sebelius, political columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, I know you have to leave us. Thanks so much for joining us.
SEBELIUSThanks for having me on. I appreciate it.
REHMAll right, and Stu Rothenberg, what's your feeling about who's going to be...
ROTHENBERGI'll give you a number. I'll give you a number, Diane. I'm going with three.
REHMYou're going with three?
ROTHENBERGI'm going with three. I'm going with Secretary Clinton, Senator Sanders and former Governor O'Malley. It's not -- it's not like they're all equal, but I think he did well enough, and he's serious enough, to get another shot. I think former Senator Webb and former Governor Chafee, this is probably their one shot.
OMEROI think that's right. I think -- I didn't see a lot of folks warming up to Webb or Chafee as of last night. I think they've always had a lot of hurdles for a variety of reasons. They've always been different waves, fringes of the Democratic Party, and their debate performances were not strong enough to propel them.
REHMAll right, we've got lots of callers. We'll go to the phones now. First to Lee in Centerville, Virginia. You're on the air.
LEEGood morning, Diane. I was just -- my comment was...
REHMI'm sorry, Lee, I can barely understand you. Are you on a speakerphone?
LEEI'm here. No, I just turned it off. I just turned it off.
LEESo my thought was we really didn't learn anything that we didn't already know from anybody. The debate, even in the Republicans', they asked all the same questions every month so it's really who gets to be stronger (unintelligible) . And, you know, the other part, I don't think -- we're not learning anything. We're not get -- benefitting from. Like you've already said, you get your three frontrunners, and they've got the big war chests, they're the names everybody knows. I think the debates have everybody an equal amount of time, and it makes the people who aren't well-known have to work harder and the people who aren't known very well work hard, as well.
MONTANAROYeah, I mean, you know, we talked earlier about whether or not people deserve equal time. I think it's a very difficult thing for campaign -- for moderators to figure out, and I do think that they go somewhat along with poll numbers and how candidates are doing, and I don't think anybody expects that Lincoln Chafee or Jim Webb would get probably the same amount of time as...
REHMBut what about going back to that ding-dong when they've had, you know, a minute...
REHMOr a minute and a half or whatever. That would have...
MONTANAROI'm not a huge fan of dings.
REHMYeah, you're not.
MONTANAROI mean, Anderson Cooper held his own in being able to cut people off.
REHMHe sure did.
OMEROI thought he did a great job.
REHMYeah, I did, too.
OMEROI thought he did a really solid job.
REHMHow about Dana Bash?
OMEROYeah, I thought Dana Bash did a great job.
REHMBoth of them.
MONTANAROHer questions were very good.
OMEROI liked how she pushed for follow-ups. I thought, you know, the questions about the Latino audience were important. I think, you know, there were a lot of really strong questions, and I think a conversational format ultimately is what people want to see. So, you know, I think it made a lot of sense.
ROTHENBERGI agree. I thought -- you know, I've been critical of some of the CNN debates in the past. I thought this one they did really well. I'm going to say something now that none of your listeners will agree with. But I'm going to say it anyway. One of the reasons to have these debates is -- I know we all focus on questions and issues and details, but is to look at the candidates and get a sense on who can be, looks, sounds presidential. Who has the bearing? Who has the maturity? Who has the poise? And so I think that's important.
ROTHENBERGNow maybe you don't need 10 debates to do that, but I think it's a -- we ought not lose track of the fact here that style is important, as well.
REHMBut Stu, remember back to the Kennedy-Nixon debates, people who listened on radio, did not watch on television, felt Nixon had won that debate. Now they didn't see carriage, they didn't see presentation, they listened, so...
ROTHENBERGWell, that's probably -- that's probably a fair point that if you read a transcript, you'll get one view, if you listen to the radio, if you watch television.
ROTHENBERGLike it or not, we're in a visual culture these days and a TV culture, and most...
REHMWe're on radio.
ROTHENBERGNo, you're right, you're right in front of me.
MONTANAROWe love this format, no question.
OMEROStu is presenting himself very professionally and presidential.
ROTHENBERGBut, you know, that debate, let's be honest, was 55 years ago. And, you know, we have to understand that, you know, I mean, even from 1980 or 1990 we've progressed to a point where these debates are what they are, style and whether or not you like somebody, you sense that they -- that, you know, they're somebody you want to see on your television for four years or eight years, that's important.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. But here is Jack in Durham, North Carolina. You're on the air.
JACKHi Diane, long time listener, first-time caller. I really love your show.
JACKMy biggest thing was it was only on CNN. Either you had to have cable or Internet, or you weren't able to watch the debate. I mean, back in the day, the airwaves were flooded with the debates. Every station you turned on, every radio station you turned on had the debate, and it was only on CNN. Is that something new, or do they exclusivity, or what?
ROTHENBERGYes, they do have exclusivity. They figure out with the committees for each party, and it's the party's show. They figure out what they want to do, where they want these debates to go, and, you know, over the last several cycles, it's turned into an exclusive issue. In fact on radio, even WestwoodOne paid for the exclusive radio rights with CNN, figured out a deal with them, and that's part of our process now.
REHMHere's a tweet. Mike says, I'm an independent millennial. I felt Bernie Sanders won that debate. His answers and comments fall along the lines of my thoughts. Did somebody win that debate last night?
OMEROWell, I mean, you know, it goes back to what I mentioned earlier, which is, you know, insiders seem very consistently to give it to Clinton, that Clinton was the winner, she held her own the whole time. The focus groups of two different networks and the Google traffic all suggest that Sanders won. As far as independent millennials, that's actually Sanders' particular sweet spot, like Mike's demographic is actually Sanders' base. There was a Washington Post-ABC poll released I think yesterday that showed among Democrats, Clinton's actually more popular than Sanders, but among independents, Sanders is more popular than Clinton.
OMEROSo he really does well with independents, he does well with the younger voters, and so it's not a surprise that Mike and others saw that Sanders won the debate. And I think we should tease out, you know, in the next coming days, why is it that focus group participants said Sanders won, when insiders feel Clinton won.
MONTANAROOne big picture point, though, here, is -- and why there isn't a lot of room for anybody else at the table, it seems, in these debates is because Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders represent the division within the Democratic Party for whatever division there is. There's not a whole lot of wiggle room on issues. I think that they both pretty much line up. Sanders, though, is -- has that more heart versus mind. You know, there's an idealism versus realism, and you heard that, I think probably Hillary Clinton's best moment last night, and she's had a really hard time figuring out how to put this into a message, and I think she did it last night when she said I'm a progressive, but I'm a progressive who likes to get things done and who knows how to do that.
MONTANAROLike that is, I think, the difference. You have Hillary Clinton as an insider, feeling like she knows the process, how to get things done and what is realistic to get done, as opposed to the idealism of Bernie Sanders.
REHMAnd by the way, preliminary Neilson ratings indicate CNN's debate was the highest-rated Democratic debate ever, 11 percent of all American homes with TVs were tuned in. The exact number is going to be released this afternoon. Short break here, more of your calls, tweets. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd welcome back. Just before the break, we were talking about how insiders think in one way and outsiders think in another way. You better, Stu, define insiders, outsiders first.
ROTHENBERGI'm not sure about...
REHMThat's right. Yeah.
ROTHENBERGI'm not sure I can do that. I guess insiders are people who have been part of the political process for an extended period, whether they're office holders or party officials or maybe journalists and activists. And the grass roots are people around the country who, they actually have jobs and lives that are apart from politics. But they feel passionate about politics. You know, when Margie was talking about this, it got me thinking something I've actually written a couple of times recently.
ROTHENBERGThose of us who are insiders, whatever that means, we have rules of thumb that we use to understand candidates and campaigns and the political process. And their rules developed over, in my case, you know, 35 years of doing, writing about politics. I, every once in a while, I ask myself, maybe the rules no longer apply in the Republican race, when you have Ben Carson and Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina leading the pack. In the Democratic race, Bernie is doing so well here. Maybe, you know, maybe this is a 1972 election, McGovern. In 1964, Goldwater. Maybe it's an outlier.
ROTHENBERGI don't know. I'm just raising that, but I think one reason things are different is I base my analysis on what's happened over the last 40 years.
ROTHENBERGMaybe things have changed.
OMEROWell, you know, maybe it's even simpler than that. I mean, we didn't, you know, I didn't see, I didn't recruit the focus groups. I didn't moderate them. And I wouldn't necessarily call them grass roots. They may have been undecided Democrats or folks that came in leaning. And it could be that Sanders finished strong, started off a little bit weaker, right? I mean, he had a, he struggled at first on guns. By the end, I felt he was stronger. And maybe respondents who were sitting there watching the debate in captivity, right? Forced observation.
OMERORather than tuning it off after the first 45 minutes, the way others might. Said, you know, I thought Sanders ended, you know, was strong. It could be as simple as that. They could also just hear Sanders' repetition and his clarity of his message maybe stuck out more than Clinton, who had mastery of a variety of topics that she weaved together.
ROTHENBERGBut Margie, part of the reason why many of us thought that she did so well is that she had the four Ps. She was poised and personable, and I can't remember the other p's.
ROTHENBERGPresidential and polished.
ROTHENBERGAnd that's what we look for.
ROTHENBERGWe look for...
OMERONo, you're right.
ROTHENBERG...does she look like a president?
REHMThat's what one of our tweets has to say. It says, I was on the fence between Clinton and Sanders. After watching, I felt Clinton looked and sounded presidential. That goes to your point, Stu. Let's see. Here's an email from James in North Carolina. How has the debate changed the Republican calculus? Do they continue to go after Sanders or continue the Benghazi barrage?
MONTANAROWell, I think Republicans are -- I mean, certainly Hillary Clinton's going to be testifying October 22nd on Benghazi. I think that Kevin McCarthy, the majority leader, who would have been House Speaker, gave her an opening when it came, last night, you saw her use that as a cudgel against Republicans. And I think that you're going to continue to see them try to, you know, go after Secretary Clinton on Benghazi. I don't think that they've really gone after Sanders as strongly. But I think that's definitely where they're headed in trying -- been trying to take her down on that issue for the past year.
OMEROI don't think they're going to let up on Clinton whatsoever, even if she had had a bad night. I don't think that would have changed her strategy. I think they were going to continue to see, to see Clinton as their top threat and get to Sanders, you know, and just expand the field to go after Sanders as needed.
MONTANAROI think they'd be thrilled if they had Bernie Sanders as the nominee.
ROTHENBERGYeah, I think their focus will continue to be Secretary Clinton. They see her as a more challenging opponent and I think Domenico is exactly right. They would just -- they're salivating at the thought of Bernie Sanders as the Democrat, but they don't believe that's the case.
OMERORight. Meanwhile, their outsiders that are at the top of their pack, have, you know, far less policy chops than Sanders or Governor O'Malley for that matter.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Miami, Florida. Renatta, welcome to the program.
RENATTAGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
RENATTAI want to say that as a citizen and as an immigrant, a voter, a woman, I feel that the Democratic debate showed that my opinion counts. And that legislators will think about what am I -- what's the meaning of my presence to the country? To our communities and to the needs, that we immigrants, Americans have. I felt that the debate sounded -- the candidates sounded very distinct on certain policies. But they also demonstrated a commitment to all Americans.
MONTANAROI think this is an important point, because when you look at the country from a big picture perspective here, we're at a cultural inflection point. Demography is changing. Hispanics are one of the fastest growing and most important voting blocks and they went overwhelmingly for Democrats in the last election. People say, you know, if demography is destiny, then you can figure out if, what, you know, where things will go. That's if they all show up to the polls, of course. But I think that when you see anger in this country at the kind of levels it's at.
MONTANAROWhen you look at the polling and you see that the right direction, wrong track numbers are still way off in the direction of wrong track, where 60 percent plus say the country is off on the wrong track. You have these two sort of tensions that are taking place. Where you have a country, demographically, that's moving in a direction that should help Democrats and you have an anger on the other side of wanting the country to be something that it was. That, you know that that base is going to be fired up, and I think that it's pulling at itself and that's, what really this election is going to wind up being about.
REHMHow do you believe that what's happening with Republicans in the House and the fight for the leadership is affecting peoples' thinking about Republicans or Democrats in the White House? Margie.
OMEROI'm not sure it is any more than sort of the usual hum of Washington dysfunction. I mean, when I do focus groups and I look at the polls, there is just, you know, it's always been, I mean, Washington's never been able to catch a break. It's not like when I started doing this 20 years ago, people were in focus groups saying, keep up the good work, Washington. Congress is doing, you know, a-okay. I mean, that was never the case, but it's so much worse now than it has been, and people just feel completely despondent when they look at what's going on in Washington.
OMEROI think this Speaker's race is just another chapter. I'm not sure how closely people have integrated it, though.
REHMAnd that's why our next caller, Diana from an important state, Ohio, has a really good question. Go right ahead, Diana.
DIANAThank you. Yeah, I'm interested in your guests saying that the Republicans would be thrilled to have Bernie Sanders as the candidate. And I'd like to hear a little bit more about that, because my husband and I both like him very much. My husband is concerned that because he's far to the left, he won't be able to be an effective President because the Republicans will refuse to work with him. I feel like maybe he's a little bit more of an unknown entity for them, and they don't have a script ready to go after him within the ways that they already do for Hillary Clinton.
DIANAAnd I know how much they really despise her. And my concern is they will do what they've done with President Obama and absolutely refuse to work with her under any circumstances. So, I'm hoping that you and your guests can speak to these issues.
REHMAll right. Stu.
ROTHENBERGWell, let me just preface my comments by saying that there were Democrats who were really hoping that the Republicans would nominate Ronald Reagan in 1980 and they did and he won. So, the fact that Republicans want Bernie Sanders doesn't necessarily mean, doesn't automatically mean he can't win. But, I think what they believe, and what they believe, frankly, has substantial merit, is that he has had an extensive political career, held lots of offices, made lots of statements.
ROTHENBERGAnd often says things that are controversial. And Republicans believe they will have an endless amount of material to portray him as out of the political mainstream. You know, he continues to double down and triple down on this notion of socialism, that he's a socialist, and he certainly is a populist, an economic populist. But they think that they have a lot of material. I think so. I think they will have a lot of material, as well. As to this question of how he would perform as President, it came up quickly in the debate last night.
ROTHENBERGI think he would have trouble working with Republicans. And I think Secretary Clinton made it clear, she's progressive, but she's a pragmatic progressive that wants to get things done. And I don't know, I think Bernie Sanders give off, at least, an impression that it's my way or the highway. He always seems angry to me. He hollers. He seems very doctrinaire. And so, I think it's a problem for Americans who are trying to get past the gridlock. Now, maybe we'll never get -- maybe Hillary Clinton won't get us past the gridlock. Maybe Marco Rubio won't get us past the gridlock.
ROTHENBERGBut it's hard for me to see that Senator Sanders is necessarily the answer to the gridlock problem.
REHMAnd here's another tweet from another millennial leaning to Sanders, but the Clinton quote about getting things done hits at my concerns about Sanders.
OMEROYeah, I mean, I don't know if we know the answer to this question yet. I mean, there's a school of thought, as Stu said, or eluded to, that there's no Democrat that could win that Republicans would work with. I mean, we've seen what happened in Congress, that, during Obama's administration, that there's no chance that any Democrat would be able to work well with Congress, no matter who it is. So, that's one school of thought. I think some of the appeal for Sanders that makes him seem to some that he would have a hard time coming together or working together, to others looks like authenticity.
OMEROThat looks like, you know, he's not concerned with polish, he's not concerned with Stu's four P's. He concerned with getting his issues across. And I think for some voters, they find that refreshing. Nonetheless, I think for folks looking for experience, polls show that Democrats who prefer experience, they're Clinton voters, they're currently Clinton voters, even though Sanders is no outsider, they're currently Clinton voters. And Democrats are divided as to whether they want experience or an outsider. Republicans, overwhelmingly, polls show, say they want an outsider.
REHMHere's a tweet from Lauren. What about the criticism that journalists of color got short shrift and only got to ask questions related to their ethnicity?
SEBELIUSWell, that criticism was certainly out there last night. You saw Don Lemon, I think, wasn't able to hear in his IFB, they call, with the device that you hear in your ear when you're on television. And that's a decision for CNN to make and for the moderators. Or for the panelists, honestly, there are these conversations on what questions do you want to ask? And, you know, I don't know the internal workings of that, but it's certainly something you have to be cognizant of when you're putting these debates together.
REHMAnd you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. To Ken, or Keen, New Hampshire, Margaret, you're on the air.
MARGARETGood morning. Thank you very much.
MARGARETI just want to say that I am so happy that I watched that debate last night. And I felt a personal invitation, from Bernie Sanders, to get off the couch and start to participate in our system. And I feel that that was such a significant change in the usual political patter. In other words, we can and we should make a difference. And his invitation to us to remember that we founded this country on the principles of leading ourselves was very refreshing and...
OMEROWell, I think what Margaret said, I think is what a lot of folks have been saying, which is why Sanders has tens of thousands of people at his events. And has for a while. You know, I think there's no question that Clinton was very strong last night. I don't know if any -- I think that Sanders' performance last night is going to continue to maintain the enthusiasm that his base and his voters seem to have. Certainly judging by the calls we've received here today and some of the post-game among voters.
MONTANAROAnd he raised quite a bit of money last night off of it, too. More than a million dollars, just off of, just within the few hours after the debate.
OMEROAnd gained more Twitter followers, apparently.
REHMOkay, let's go to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Janet, you're on the air.
JANETGood morning. Thank you very much for putting me on.
JANETMy, I'm a long time listener, too. My feeling about all this, especially related to Bernie Sanders, is why the Republicans may salivate at the idea of him becoming the Democratic candidate. It's because, unfortunately, too many people that would most benefit are the ones that historically haven't been voters. Young people, a lot of minorities, they have not been folks who have actually shown up at the polls. And I think that's one of the things that makes a huge difference is trying to get -- it's not just being there at rallies and saying, whoop de doo, and contributing.
JANETBut actually showing up at the polls, and I think a lot of people don't believe they'd make a difference, and yet when you look at so many elections over the years, at the local level, where it starts, where individuals have won by a handful of votes, it's important to get them out to vote. And I think that's going to be critical, regardless of who the candidate is.
REHMIndeed. Stu Rothenberg.
ROTHENBERGWell, this goes back to my point about do the old rules apply or are there new rules? Traditionally, presidential races have been fought in the middle. Parties nominate candidates who appeal to swing voters, who are less ideological. In this case, we're getting a lot of calls from people who support Senator Sanders. I would argue this, and again, this is probably going to be controversial. I believe Senator Sanders is as far, or farther to the left as Ted Cruz is on the right. And for those Democrats who think Ted Cruz is a crazy, wild man, ideological right winger, there are an equal number of Republicans who think that Bernie Sanders is a crazy ideological left winger.
REHMAnd we've just had an email from Lizzy in North Carolina. She says, picture this Republican commercial in a general election campaign. Sanders face with the word socialist written across it. Copy next to the photo reads, do you want a socialist for President of the US? He'd take a worse clubbing than McGovern did.
OMEROThere definitely -- the word socialist is problematic. Gallup shows that people are more likely to reject a socialist for President than an atheist or a Muslim. You know, CC, Ben Carson, right? I still think that Democrats watched the debate and saw inclusion and Democrats don't see inclusion, this language of inclusivity at the Republican debates.
REHMAnd just flashing across our CNN screen was an ad to draft Joe Biden. Just for your information. Stuart Rothenberg, Domenico Montanaro, Margie Omero and earlier, Steve Sebelius. Thank you all so much.
OMEROThank you so much.
MONTANAROThanks for having us.
ROTHENBERGThanks so much.
REHMAnd thanks a lot for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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