Millions of Americans were out holiday shopping Saturday night or taking in the new “Star Wars” movie. Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley were on a debate stage in New Hampshire. Televised live by ABC, it was the last presidential debate of the year. The three candidates for the Democratic nomination sought to differentiate themselves from each other on foreign policy, the plight of the middle class and gun control. But front-runner Clinton focused strongly on staking out differences between her party and the GOP. Diane and her guests offer analysis of the debate and where the Democrats stand as we head into 2016.
- Susan Page Washington bureau chief, USA Today
- Stuart Rothenberg Founding editor of the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report; columnist, Roll Call
- Fred Yang Democratic pollster, Garin Hart Yang Research Group
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. With the Iowa caucuses just six weeks away, the Democrats held the final presidential debate of the year Saturday night. The three candidates quickly dispatched the issue in the day's headlines, a data breach by the center's campaign. The rest of the night, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley sparred over foreign policy and domestic issues like gun control and healthcare.
MS. DIANE REHMBut each kept up an attack on the Republican field. Joining me to talk about the debate and the Democratic party as it prepares to take on the GOP next fall, Susan Page of USA Today, Stuart Rothenberg of the Rothenberg and Gonzales Political Report and Roll Call, and Fred Yang, a Democratic pollster with the Garin Hart Yang Research Group. You are, as always, invited to be part of the program.
MS. DIANE REHMGive us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And it's good to see all of you.
MS. SUSAN PAGEGood morning.
MR. STUART ROTHENBERGGreat to be here, Diane.
MR. FRED YANGGood morning.
REHMThank you. And before we begin with the Democrats, Stu Rothenberg, Lindsey Graham has just announced at 9:30 this morning, South Carolina senator, he's suspending his presidential run. He needed to do that now why?
ROTHENBERGHe needed to do that to make sure that he could be on the South Carolina -- that he would not be on the South Carolina presidential ballot and, frankly, Diane, embarrassed with a poor showing. Look, he's represented the state for years. He's a person of substance and maturity and experience and a very bad showing in his home state would have been something that, I think, he would've been embarrassed by.
REHMDo you think he would have had a bad showing?
ROTHENBERGYes, I think he would've had a bad showing because I think he really isn't in the mix, even in South Carolina. Look, we're a long ways from the old home state allegiance where the folks used to support their guy just because he was from the home state. It's a very different country now, different media and party and he would have been overwhelmed by the likes of Donald Trump and being beaten badly in his home state by Donald Trump would've been kind of sad to watch.
PAGEAlthough easily won reelection last year, we should say. He didn't have a touch race there. You know, I don't think that Senator Graham ever thought he was really gonna win the nomination. But I think he got involved in this race because he wanted his voice out there, especially on foreign policy and national security issues, which has been an area of expertise for him. I think, initially, he was concerned that kind of the Rand Paul faction, which is more isolationist, was going to gain more traction than they have, although I'm sure he is concerned about some of the rhetoric you hear from Donald Trump, the frontrunner, when it comes to issues like how do you deal with ISIS, how do you deal with the very difficult and complicated problems around the globe.
YANGI think his challenge was he sounded reasonable and right now, reasonable voices, unless you can shout really loud in the Republican primary just aren't heard.
REHMAll right. Let's turn to the debate. Susan, you were there. Give us the highlights.
PAGEWell, I thought it was a really interesting debate. I wish they had more debates. It was quite substantive. They had an extended discussion, the three Democratic contenders who remain, which would be, of course, Hillary Clinton, Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders, a very substantive discussion, especially when it came to issues of ISIS and dealing with foreign policy challenges. It was a debate in which I think all three of them came out feeling like they had done some of the things they needed to do.
PAGEHillary Clinton looked quite presidential and spent a lot of her time dealing not with her Democratic opponents, but with Donald Trump. Five times she mentioned Trump by name in her answers at the debate. Martin O'Malley got into the conversation and they others even took him on some. That's been kind of problem because he's so low in the polls, about 5 percent in the polls nationally, that they hadn't really been bothering to engage with him.
PAGEAnd Bernie Sanders also made his case on the issues that matter most to him, on things like income inequality. So in that way, I thought it was a debate well worth viewing, although I'm not sure how many Americans actually bothered to watch.
REHMStu Rothenberg, Hillary Clinton promised not to raise taxes on the middle class. Is she gonna regret that at all should she become the Democratic nominee?
ROTHENBERGWell, you know, Diane, candidates say so many things during a campaign and it is -- and in a debate like this when you're kind of responding to questions, I kind of give candidates a little benefit of the doubt. It's one thing when you're writing position papers or reading a speech you go over. I know when I write, I don't know about others here, but when I write, I read over it and I change words. I say, this is the wrong word. When you're speaking contemporaneously, it's a little different.
ROTHENBERGSo I don't think that that's a gigantic problem in general. I think it's a bigger problem among Democrats.
PAGELet me disagree, if I...
PAGE...may, which is I think she was very deliberately saying flatly, promising not to raise taxes on the middle class if she's elected. You know, in the last debate, she wouldn't go that far. She said only that it was a goal that had caused a little bit of, you know, leaving that opening had caused a little bit of discussion around here. She, you know, I think this probably serves her well in a general election. In fact, I was talking to one of her campaign aides, top campaign aides, afterwards in the spin room and I said, you know, will she, one day, will this be a read-my-lips kind of moment where she'll want to raise taxes down the road and she'll have this promise out there?
PAGEAnd he said, I worked for Walter Mondale. Remember what he said? I'll raise your taxes, so will Ronald Reagan, but I'm gonna be honest with you. And that did not work for Walter Mondale.
REHMDid not work at all.
YANGWell, let me agree with Susan, disagree with Stu. It's a pile-on. No, I think that it seemed like each of three Democrats had different goals. And I think Susan is probably right, that Mrs. Clinton, not off the cuff, but said on purpose about middle class tax cuts because I think, to me, Susan, and I think this is your impression, is that her debate performance was kind of like the first salvo to the general election. Like, I am the person who is going to be the Democratic standard bearer. I don't think she was taking it for granted, but I think with Paris and San Bernardino, all of our polls show that with everybody, including Democrats, security and terrorism are top of the mind issues and she just, to me, looked like she was a commander-in-chief.
REHMHow do you think that event in San Bernardino really changed the overall tenor of the debate?
YANGI think, actually, Diane, you have to go back to the attacks on Paris. I think that sort of changed the paradigm for right now for the 2016 election. So she is clearly running as the leader. I thought Bernie Sanders was still gamely trying to run a Democratic primary race and same thing with Governor O'Malley.
REHMDo you agree, Susan?
PAGEI do. I think that Hillary -- it's not that the race is over, but she is clearly the prohibitive favorite and she has survived a sort of a tough summer. She's come back. Bernie Sanders has had a great run. Who would've thought he would've done this well with Democratic primary voters? But he's hit a plateau, it seems to me. He's having no trouble expanding his support. I'm not even sure he's now in it to win it. I think he's in it to shape the debate, affect what the Democratic party stands for. But it's pretty clear -- I mean, it's dangerous to say this and we've said this before and had things turn around, but she certainly looks like the nominee and that was definitely part of the focus she had on Saturday night.
ROTHENBERGWell, I'm not sure if I agree. And maybe I continue to disagree with my colleagues here. I certainly agree that Paris changed the discussion and I certainly agree that former Secretary Clinton is the overwhelming frontrunner for the nomination. But watching the debate and listening to Democrats, I find that they're a little uncomfortable that the whole discussion has changed. I mean, I think they would much prefer this to be about economic inequality and global climate change.
ROTHENBERGAnd, yes, Secretary Clinton does talk a lot about national security, but I think there's a sense among most Democrats that they're afraid to go too far down that line because they don't want to commit U.S. troops and they don't want to be too involved and so they'd much prefer to talk about global climate change.
REHMAnd, of course, she has been much more hawkish right from the start.
YANGWell, look, Stu, I think there are things we wish we could do and then there are things we are forced to do and I think, right now, look, who knows in the month or two months, three months where the issue agenda will be, but, you know, right now, the issues de jour is national security and she, you know, this is her moment right now.
REHMAnd just before the debate, the Bernie Sanders campaign had its own controversy to deal with. That was dispatched with very quickly, but, Susan, give us a quick roundup of what happened there.
PAGESo there is a massive Democratic data base of voters that's incredibly useful to candidates of all sorts running at all levels and it's better than the Republican counterpart. I mean, it's really a source of pride for Democrats, where canvassing and other information about voters is kept in a centralized file. Campaigns use that in primaries, but, of course, there are firewalls between -- to keep one -- if you're running against somebody, to keep your opponent from accessing the data that you're gathering about your voters and your targeting strategy.
PAGEWell, it turned out that there was a mistake made by the vendor that allowed Hillary Clinton data to be downloaded, to be viewed by the Sanders' campaign, which they did, which is considered unethical. It violates the rules. It's also stupid because the computer tracks when you do that so you can see exactly what they were doing. So that was a problem, a mistake made by the Sanders' campaign. The DNC then reacted with the harshest possible way, that made the Sanders people able to discuss it with themselves, looking a little like victims, but it turned out not to be a big issue in the debates, to our surprise.
REHMAnd they fired the fellow who had done the breach?
PAGEThey fired one. They've suspended two more. That investigation is continuing.
REHMAll right. And short break here. When we come back, we'll continue our discussion, take your calls, emails, stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. I do want to welcome as many of our callers as we can, because it's you who watched the debate as well and have your own thoughts, your ideas. Here in the studio, Susan Page of USA Today, Fred Yang with the Garin Hart Yang Research Group and Stuart Rothenberg of the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report. He's also a columnist for Roll Call. Lots of complaints about the Democratic National Committee. Stu, the DNC, were they trying to tilt things in favor of Hillary?
ROTHENBERGWell, if they were here, they would say, absolutely not. They're totally, completely and utterly neutral, dispassionate and don't have a horse in the race. But look when this last debate was scheduled, Saturday at eight o'clock. Not exactly prime time, not exactly the moment when you get the biggest audience. You look at the number...
REHMJust before Christmas.
ROTHENBERGYeah. And you look at the number of debates, the timing of the debates. You -- I mean, clearly, there are folks who prefer Secretary Clinton. But, you know, this is politics. And so you walk the fine line between kind of trying to -- you're going to disavow any preference and being dispassionate, while at the same time looking for ways maybe to kind of tilt the board.
PAGEBut I think it's pretty clear they overreacted in response to this data breach. Because they cut off the Sanders' campaign access to Sanders' campaign data.
PAGEAnd in a critical period, you know, as they're -- they couldn't canvass, they couldn't do phone calls during the period where this was being sorted out. And it reinforced the resentment of the Sanders people that the DNC has, from the start, tried to put their finger on the scale in favor of Hillary Clinton. I think that is a fair analysis of how the -- when the debates were scheduled, how many debates were scheduled and their response in this thing. Now they've backed off now and the Sanders campaign has access to its own data again.
ROTHENBERGAnd, of course, that goes back to the whole question of the establishment versus the insurgent candidate...
ROTHENBERG...the progressives in the Party, who feel that the kind of corporate wing of the Democratic Party runs things, which is probably true.
YANGWell, friend of these studios seeing neutral. I think, ultimately, what I can comment on is the aftermath. And I think this -- if you're the Bernie Sanders campaign, you're looking, you're whole essence is antiestablishment. This sort of, I think, helps you at the end of the day.
PAGEWell, I think the overreaction helps you but the incident itself I think hurts you, right? Because you end up looking like you're not running the kind of transparent, honest, authentic campaign that Bernie Sanders is known for -- your campaign engaged in what amounts to a dirty trick. He had to apologize at the beginning of the debate. So I don't think they're, at the end of the day, happy that this happened. But if their error was going to happen, they were in a way fortunate that the DNC overreacted and gave them something else to talk about.
REHMAh. All right. We're going to open the phones now. Let's go to Amherst, Va. Ann, you're on the air.
ANNHi. Thanks for taking my call.
ANNWe sure are going to miss you, Diane.
REHMThank you. You've got another whole year.
ANNWell, I'm already missing.
ANNAnyway, my question was specifically about how the campaign has been tilted towards Hillary. And your guests actually kind of addressed it already. But I wonder if you can speak to the involvement of Debbie Wasserman Schultz? There's a lot of buzz that she's kind of pushing Hillary in our direction.
PAGEWell, she says she's an independent voice. So she would say she is not pushing Hillary. But she is the chairman of the Party. And so I think she has responsibility for some of the decisions the Party has made. You know, this whole issue of how many debates to have, I mean, having -- not having debates helps the status-quo frontrunner because there are fewer opportunities to mix things up. But, you know, Hillary Clinton is very skilled at debates. She's a -- she's -- had a very strong debate performance I thought Saturday night. So I've always -- I've wondered why candidates are so loathe to do that when it seems to me it is a huge opportunity and also a chance to rehearse for the general election debates where the stakes will be even higher.
REHMOf course. Yeah. Stu.
ROTHENBERGYeah, I agree particularly with your last point, Susan. Boy, when I watched the debates, the three candidates, one of the things I look for is kind of stature and persona, how comfortable they are, whether they have a commanding presence when they -- and you notice differences. And maybe we all, every listener notices different things than I do. But as I was watching and listening to the debate, I just thought she looked so comfortable, so in control, so -- and I will use the word -- presidential.
YANGLook, I think the Sanders campaign, others, may have issues with the Party. But you can't control what you can't control. These things have happened or been planned. And, you know, Bernie Sanders, for -- and even now -- continues to be a very strong contender for the presidency. Whatever they feel is happening or not happening with the Party hasn't prevented the Sanders campaign from taking off nationally.
PAGEYou know, whatever happens down the road in the next couple months in terms of the nomination, Bernie Sanders has changed the debate, right? If Bernie Sanders had not launched a challenge, voiced kind of that progressive, populist side of the party, Hillary Clinton might be in a different place on some of these issues -- especially these economic issues that we're talking about. So whatever happens, he's had an impact.
ROTHENBERGYou know, let's not declare his campaign over yet. He still has a chance to win one of these -- one -- at least one of the early events. And that would give it to a new round of discussions and wondering about Secretary Clinton and wondering about the Democratic Party.
REHMAll right. And Bernie Sanders accused Secretary Clinton of being too quick to reach a military solution in Syria, not mindful enough of the lessons of Iraq or Libya. What about the war against ISIS? What do these candidates have to say? How do they differ?
PAGEWell, they have -- they differ sharply from what we heard from Republicans at their debate a week ago, where ISIS was -- and the battle against ISIS was a prime topic as well. For one thing, Democrats are -- talk much more about diplomacy. They talk about military action as well. But they -- diplomacy, building a coalition, building a coalition with Muslim governments and -- is one of the things you heard a lot about Saturday night. You heard very little talk about diplomacy at the Republican debate the previous Monday.
PAGEBut Hillary Clinton does have a somewhat muscular posture when it comes to U.S. diplomacy and when it comes to the U.S. role in the world, as she noted. She noted in something that was an implicit criticism of President Obama. She noticed -- she -- in discussing the situation in Syria now and the rise of ISIS, she said she had supported arming those Syrian rebels at an earlier point, which we know she did. This has been something that everyone involved has talked about. But that didn't happen because that wasn't where President Obama was.
PAGEYou know, it was interesting to me, Trump's name was mentioned a lot. President Obama's...
REHMNot at all.
PAGEYeah, he was referred to but he was -- they weren't -- and these three Democratic candidates were not citing him, embracing him, promising to continue his administration.
YANGWell, it is interesting, Susan, that 27 minutes into our debate, as the first time President Obama's name was mentioned. But I think that is the big elephant in the room for the Democrats is we have a President of the United States who is still president, who, from all polls, is still very popular with Democrats, and who is navigating this very difficult issue. And I think, you know, whatever office you're running for as a Democrat, a lot of what you're going to say or not say, you're going to take cues from the administration. He still has the biggest megaphone, even when we have a nominee.
REHMAnd so what you're saying is that polls tell us that more people agree with the stance he has taken than one that Hillary might possibly take?
YANGI think, look, polls depend on how you word the question.
REHMPolls, polls, sure.
YANGBut I think with Democratic primary voters, which is the audience that Clinton, Sanders and O'Malley care about the most right now, there is -- the president has a lot of credibility with Democrats for how to handle this issue.
REHMShe talked about the experience she's had, Stu, dealing with foreign policy issues.
ROTHENBERGYeah. Yeah, this is a really interesting subject, I think, this whole topic. Because if you believe, as I do, that most elections start to be either about continuity or change -- if you believe that, then you have to look at this Democratic debate in terms of the Democratic audience, but the general election audience. Remember, we started talking about -- Susan started talking about how Hillary Clinton is really talking about -- has begun the general election and she's talking -- positioning herself for the general election.
ROTHENBERGSo, if you're Hillary Clinton, you've been Secretary of State in this administration, are you part of the administration and therefore have to defend continuity and justify everything and do you get blame for things that go amiss? Or are you going to offer change? And in the Democratic debate, I think you want to put the thumb on the scale for continuity. In a general election, you probably want to put a thumb on the scale for change. And so Secretary Clinton has this awkward position where she's going to have to do two things at the same time that seem sometimes contradictory.
REHMHow did they differ among each other, Susan, on this question of ISIS and foreign policy?
PAGEYou know, I think there's a reasonably significant division between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton on this issue. Because Bernie Sanders is much more focused on things at home -- on the economy at home, on income inequality and what's happening to the middle class in this country -- and less inclined to devote -- to want to devote a lot of the conversation and his attention to these issue abroad, and much less likely, I think, to want to go down a military -- much less likely than Hillary Clinton to want to go down the military route to commit U.S. military in this fight.
PAGEI mean, it's interesting how often Bernie Sanders mentioned Hillary Clinton's vote in 2002 to authorize the invasion of Iraq. You'd think it was last week. And it was, of course, a big problem for Hillary Clinton in the 2008 campaign. This time around, she just doesn't even respond when he raises the issue.
YANGI mean, not predicting where this thing will go, but I think what Susan said brings up the issue Stu raised a couple of minutes ago, which is this ain't over yet. I mean, we still have actual voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. And in addition to the economic divisions in our Party, you know, Paris and San Bernardino now bring up the foreign policy-security divisions in the Party.
REHMExactly. Of course.
PAGEAnd that's probably why Martin O'Malley is still in the race, right? He hasn't really broken through. But sometimes things happen in campaigns that we don't expect, things turn around. I guess he figures maybe, in it so far, might as well stay in it until you see what happens.
YANGI will tell you, as a pollster, sometimes voters do the darndest things.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Sarah, who's in Orlando, Fla. You're on the air.
SARAHYes. Good morning.
SARAHHi. I think it is a big deal that Hillary Clinton voted to invade Iraq in 2002. And I have -- I'm changing my affiliation in the State of Florida. We have closed primaries. I'm a registered Republican, a baby boomer. And I want to vote in the primary for Bernie Sanders because he understood that that was not the right thing to do in 2002. I had spent time in the Middle East and I understood the politics, probably from that perspective. But for her not to read the national intelligence estimate prior to voting for the invasion of Iraq is not the sign of a good leader. I'm sorry, but I think that that's something that is important because that's why we have what we have today in the Middle East.
REHMFred Yang, do you want to comment?
YANGWell, I, you know, I think that, you know -- in the abstract, discussion of issues like this, again, I think helps reinforce Mrs. Clinton's vast experience and leadership. But, no, I think what this has done now is brought up issues that have, you know, divided Democrats in the past. And, look, here's what -- I think, in addition to Stu saying continuity and change -- elections, especially non-incumbent elections, are of the future. And I think the Democrats, the way we're going to win is to make this election about the future.
PAGESarah, I think you're in a reasonably small subset of voters, voters who are reregistering from the Republican Party to vote for Bernie Sanders. So, you know, the Bernie Sanders line would like to get your phone number and give you a call. One thing I will -- one think that has surprised me about this election or that I think has been remarkable is, you know, Hillary Clinton, if she wins the nomination, will be the first woman nominated by a major party for the presidency. But for a long time, the theory was women would have a hard time getting that nomination and winning the White House because they wouldn't be seen as tough enough to be commander-in-chief. This is not Hillary Clinton's problem. She has answered that question already.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Stu, I know you'd like to add.
ROTHENBERGYeah. I want to make two quick points. One, this issue hurt her once before. I would argue it cost her the nomination once before. It defines her to some people -- Sarah and maybe some others, maybe actually some Democrats. And she is -- she can't get away from it. Somehow she's got to get past it or around it or beyond it. But this is a -- it's a concern. It kind of defines her.
ROTHENBERGSecond of all, I'm intrigued by the notion that -- Fred's right, of course, he knows more about this than I do -- but the future, presidential elections are a lot about the president and his or her ability to take us into the future and to make us comfortable with the future and successful with the future. But it does, Fred has raised a question to me, is Hillary Clinton the ideal candidate to talk about the future? I can understand how Republicans might say a 44-year-old senator -- first-term senator from Florida or Texas might talk about the future and a new generation and change. In fact, there was a Clinton that once talked about generational change and the future.
ROTHENBERGBut is Hillary ideally positioned? I -- she has, you know, poise and maturity and wisdom and experience. But that's only a part of the future. That used to be important to the future in the old days, Fred. But, today, is that the future?
YANGWell, number one, there is no ideal candidate in the race. I think the three of us can agree with that. I think, number two, look, the -- this -- I think this is going to be a different campaign than 2008. I think 2008, you could run and win on hope and change. I think where the country is now, you know, we do -- we've done polling for NBC News, Wall Street Journal -- I think we're in our 12th year of a political depression, which was only four years into the political depression in 2008. So, yeah, it's the future. She or other people may not be the best-suited campaign to carry on a message of the future. But this is an uncertain future. And I think that's why you're seeing -- at least on the Democratic side -- candidates with experience, Mrs. Clinton doing well.
PAGEYou know, this is such an angry electorate -- angry and anxious. And I think that accounts for what we see happening on the Republican side, where candidate who have never sought office before have been leading the field. And the candidate with the harshest, most antiestablishment message of them all is doing so well. It's like, you know, this is the 10th presidential campaign I've covered. But in this one, people are more unsettled, more unhappy, the atmosphere is more toxic than any of the previous campaigns I've covered.
REHMAnd here's a tweet saying, Millennials are overwhelmingly pro-Bernie. Why do your guests think Hillary already has the general election?
PAGEWell, Millennials, I think are somewhat for -- in favor of Bernie Sanders. I don't think they're -- I don't think it's fair to say they're overwhelmingly for Sanders. Is that right, Fred?
YANGHe's very strong with them but not overwhelmingly strong.
REHMAll right. And we'll leave it right there, take a short break. More of your emails, your phone calls, your tweets when we come back.
REHMWelcome back. Here's an email from Bruce in Pennsylvania who says watching the Democratic debate, I was impressed, once again, how much the Democratic candidates, over the last number of elections, have used the tactic of vilifying any GOP candidate or the GOP in general to set their own agenda in place. Could you speak to that strategy?
YANGWell, I would say if you'd listen to the Republican debates, just change the name and the party, it would have been the same thing. And, you know, I wanted to go back to a point that Susan and Stu were making before the break. Which is look, I'm sure the parties have been as polarized as ever, but Democratic primary voters and Republican primary voters really do see the world in fundamentally different terms. And I thought Susan brought up a great point about the anger and frustration that everyone feels, but Republican primary voters are acting out in different ways the Democratic primary voters are.
REHMHow so? Say a little more about that.
YANGWell, their leading candidate right now is Donald Trump, who, I guess, he needs to go back to the Miss Universe pageant, because I'm sure if he was in charge, we wouldn't have had that kerfuffle.
REHMWhoa. You need to explain that. I just saw that this morning. Our listeners may not be aware.
YANGWell, apparently, the host of Miss Universe, and I was flipping back between the football game, by the way. Apparently, said Miss Columbia -- left the impression that Miss Columbia was the winner and crowned her.
PAGEDidn't leave the impression. Yeah.
YANGAnd crowned her.
YANGAnd she was the first runner-up, right?
REHMYeah, and then they had to take the crown away, put it on the other one.
REHMHow disastrous. So, how are you comparing that to Donald Trump, Fred?
YANGI don't really know, but I think, I think, so, Democrats and Republicans are equally angry and frustrated. Republicans seem to be acting out by this anti-establishment voice, Donald Trump. You know, Democrats, I think, you know, we're, some of this is because we have the Presidency, we are acting out in different ways. But the other point I wanted to make about, I was saying, I was being very clear, Democratic primary voters and Republican primary voters, they are minorities within minorities. So, there are the broader sample of Democrats, but Democratic primary voters are a subsample of Democrats.
YANGAnd same thing with Republican primary voters. That's why, Diane, sometimes in these primaries, whether for President or Congress or whatever, you have candidates, you know, speaking loudly to their side of the aisle in a way that sometimes makes it harder to go back to the middle for general elections.
REHMOkay, and our next caller is exactly about that issue. Samuel in Dallas, Texas. You're on the air.
SAMUELHi. My question is more about the bearing that the rhetoric and the antagonism caused in the primaries. How much of that have a bearing on the general. My concern comes after reading the social media about -- from the Sanders followers about how extreme some of their comments were. Post the debacle that just happened against Clinton. And I'm wondering whether these folks are (unintelligible) actually refrain from voting in the general, which would have a big impact on Clinton's chance.
ROTHENBERGI don't think that's much of a problem at all, frankly. I think when you look at Democrats as a whole, they generally like both candidates. Sanders and Clinton. Clinton supporters could support Sanders. Sanders supporters could support Clinton. It's just a matter of who they prefer or what they're looking for. One is a woman, one is more of an outsider. But I think in a general election, it's very easy for Democratic voters to support these -- either of the front running Democrats.
PAGELet me disagree just a little. I mean, it's certainly true that polls show that Hillary Clinton is broadly acceptable to Sanders voters, but if the Sanders, if the people who are supporting Bernie Sanders feel that the game was rigged, and that he didn't get a fair shot, and because the DNC, which is supposed to neutral, was on her side, and for other reasons. Then it seems to me that that's an extra effort that she's got to make in a general election to get them back and excited. And turning out for her. You know, we've got a question about millennial voters.
PAGEWell, millennial voters are -- can be incredibly powerful if they turn out to vote. But we know that the older you are, the more likely you are to vote, so the younger you are, the less likely you are. So, it seems to me this has the potential to be something of an issue that the Clinton people would have to address in a general election.
REHMAll right. To Kathleen in Dayton, Ohio. Go right ahead.
KATHLEENYeah, I'm a Senator Sanders supporter and I'm 63. So, there are lots of older people who support Senator Sanders, but one thing I don't understand is while he brings up Hillary's vote for the 2002 Iraq War Resolution, and his vote against, he doesn't go deeper with the really specific with the consequences of not only that vote of hers. You know, invasion, Al Qaeda was not in Iraq before, disbanding of the Iraqi army morphing into ISIS. Arming Syrian rebels that we don't know who they are. Creating more ungoverned territory in Iraq and Syria.
KATHLEENAnd tremendous amounts of death and destruction that the Obama administration nor the Bush administration will take any sort of responsibility for. So, why, I mean, I don't find much distance between Hillary and Bush and Cheney on foreign policy.
REHMAll right, what do you think there, Fred?
YANGWell, I think that most Democrats, including, I'm sure, Sanders supporters, would say there are differences between Mrs. Clinton and the Republicans she mentioned. Look, I think that melding these two calls, I think the longer that the Democratic primary fight goes on, the harder it will be, the longer it will take for the party to come together. I mean, that's why primaries are tough. Because, look, there are differences between Clinton and Sanders and O'Malley on some of these key issues.
YANGBut fundamentally, all three Democrats are good Democrats in good standing. They've been Democrats a long time, unlike Donald Trump, who just recently became a Republican. They're all left of center on the major issues. So, we -- when either we find major differences on an issue like Iraq or there are stylistic differences, they tend to subsume the real agreement that these three candidates have on the major issues of the day. And that's where the harshness comes in.
PAGEBut, you know, Kathleen raises, I think, a fair point, which is that Senator Sanders has not pursued a kind of scorched earth strategy against Hillary Clinton. This has been a reasonably positive debate on both their side. If he, you know, we have seen different kinds of primary debates in the Democratic party in the past and in the Republican party this year, where there's really an effort to destroy the other candidate. We haven't seen that in this case, and in that way, whoever gets the nomination will, I think, have an easier time than they would have had otherwise to get all the Democrats behind them.
ROTHENBERGYeah, and look, we're in the December of the off year. It hasn't been a mean spirited, bitter Democratic race. There are differences. They talk about some of their differences. But the tone just does not create such a division in the party. And, look, the Democrats went through a divisive primary fight in 2008 that lasted well into the spring, almost the summer of the election year. And considering who the Republicans are likely to nominate, which is not a moderate, it will be a conservative. I just think Democrats will rally around their nominee.
REHMWhat about the issue of gun control? Did anything that anybody said the other night help to sway or turn a voter away from that candidate? Fred.
YANGNo. I, no. I think it's clearly one of the issues, actually, I mean, if Mrs. Clinton has problems with part of the party on her Iraq vote, then on the gun safety issue, that's where Senator Sanders has some problems with elements of the party. He's managed to do a good job of explaining his position. Look, I don't think what Clinton, Sanders or O'Malley said on gun safety changed any minds. I think if you went into the debate for each of these candidates, what they said on gun safety kept you where you were.
PAGEI'm interested in the fact that Hillary Clinton has been talking a lot about gun laws on the stump. You know, it's an issue that Democrats have been kind of been shying away from the last couple cycles, because it tended to help Republicans more in swing states than Democrats. She has been talking about it and if -- I wonder if she will continue to do that in a general election when gun owners are, you know, the electorate at large has -- is less supportive of gun laws than the Democratic electorate is.
ROTHENBERGI would say Senator Sanders always looks uncomfortable when the subject initially comes up. Almost like he has some indigestion. He'd rather not talk about it. But no, I think Fred's right. I think on the grand scheme of things, it doesn't alter the race at all.
REHMAnd Martin O'Malley, Stu Rothenberg, talk about what he could gain from staying in this race.
ROTHENBERGWell Diane, I recently wrote a column on dumb stuff that I had written this year, and the dumbest thing that I had written probably was in the spring, suggesting that Martin O'Malley, if anybody was going to emerge as an alternative to Hillary Clinton, somebody who could talk about change and rally progressive forces. That I thought it could be Martin O'Malley. That there was a ceiling to where Bernie Sanders could go because of who he is and his lengthy record.
ROTHENBERGBoy, that was really dumb. As it turned out, Sanders got in the race early, coalesced progressive forces, articulated the exact concerns that they had about the Clintons. And that's where we've gone. And O'Malley was late, I think, to get in the race. I think he just hopes that if he stays in the race, he continues to be relevant, people continue to think about him and that this becomes a platform for something else down the road, politically. But I mean, my own view of him is he looks so, kind of, so plastic-y politician, that I don't think he's helping himself...
REHMEven on that Bernie Sanders campaign glitch, he sort of had a rehearsed comment to make right after. Bernie Sanders apologized to Hillary. Hillary accepted the apology. What did Martin O'Malley say?
PAGEHe gave an impassioned statement against the bickering that was turning off American voters, which we had not actually heard. So, I think that he had a prepared remark that he decided to deliver, even though it no longer fit the moment. You know, he had, there was another moment where he was actually booed when he said to let me offer the perspective of a different generation, which was a reference to Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders's age. Boos from this Democratic leaning audience against that.
REHMAll right, let's go to Frank in Aberdeen, Maryland. You're on the air.
FRANKYes ma'am. My problem with Hillary is her definition of middle class ending at 250,000 dollars. If you're making 250,000 dollars, you're in the top 3.7 percent of the income distribution. That would make middle class from being less than 10,000 dollars to 250,000.
REHMThere you are. What do you think? Stu, you're shaking your head.
ROTHENBERGI think Frank is not alone as seeing Secretary Clinton as somebody who would rather have lunch with Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase, rather than with kind of the average activist, progressive activist.
REHMYeah, she's been criticized a lot for sort of representing Wall Street and the big money makers.
YANGLook, there are criticisms you could make. I'm not sure that she gives off the impression that -- I think kind of like she said in the debate, why shouldn't everyone love me? And I think her strength as a candidate is sure, she can have lunch with that CEO, but I think she is great at connecting with middle class people.
ROTHENBERGWell, Fred, Frank in Aberdeen doesn't seem to be connecting with her very well. And there is a whole chunk of the Democratic party that sees her as a representative of the Democrats corporate culture as much as the Republican corporate culture.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. And how do you come out on that, Susan?
PAGEI think this has been a problem for Hillary Clinton that she's tried to deal with. You remember that early interview that she gave where she said we left the White House broke. Now, for a family that has made millions and millions of dollars since leaving the White House, I think that didn't sit well with people. I think she's tried to deal with that, and she does campaign a lot with kind of Joe Six Pack regular voters as well as Jamie Dimon.
REHMAll right, so, in the few moments we have left, how important is Iowa to these three Democratic candidates? Stu Rothenberg.
ROTHENBERGWell, it's the first test, so it's important to all of them. Obviously, Secretary Clinton would like to win it. She's been ahead narrowly in the polls, but she's been ahead. Right now Senator Sanders is still ahead in New Hampshire. So, she's, I think, it's important to her that she does well in the first case. So Martin O'Malley, assuming he stays in until then, would like to have a surprisingly good showing to get some positive ink to hopefully take the campaign.
REHMIs there a possibility of that in Iowa?
ROTHENBERGI don't think so. No. I don't think there's a possibility at all. I think it's a two person race, but, you know, we have elections so that voters decide the outcome. Not political analysts sitting behind a microphone.
PAGEI think a big stumble for Hillary Clinton if she doesn't win Iowa, because Bernie Sanders is leading in New Hampshire. If he managed to win in Iowa, which would be a little bit of a surprise, that would give him some real momentum going into New Hampshire. And that might prompt people to say, hey, is something going on here?
YANGThis is one thing I actually agree with my colleagues. I think Iowa is very important to Mrs. Clinton. She lost it in 2008. That's what helped fuel the Obama candidacy. So, yeah, I think she needs to do very well there. And then Iowa's the most important thing until New Hampshire, and then until South Carolina and then until Nevada.
REHMAnd do you think Bernie Sanders may be able to pull it off in New Hampshire?
PAGEWell, I think he's well positioned in New Hampshire. And, you know, if Hillary Clinton wins in Iowa, in a way, I think it helps him in New Hampshire. Because New Hampshire likes to keep a race going. New Hampshire, the New Hampshire electorate, different from the Iowa electorate. So yes, I think Bernie Sanders has a reasonably good chance of winning in New Hampshire. And that will keep the race going for at least a little while.
YANGBut I think, Susan, Stu and Diane, the interesting thing about New Hampshire is the Republicans have their primary on the same day. And in New Hampshire, if you're an independent, you decide on election day which primary you want to vote in. And that is another X factor.
PAGEAnd you have a bunch of -- you have three or four Republican more moderate candidates like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie and John Kasich counting on independent voters walking in on -- to caucuses, to the primary to vote for them just for that very reason.
ROTHENBERGYeah, I agree, but it's also possible that some of these independent voters could be pure anti-establishment voters, people who don't pick one of the parties, and they're just frustrated and angry. So, you could have people choosing between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. I grant you that ideologically they're light years apart, but in terms of tone and outsider message, wow, yes, independents in New Hampshire. I agree.
REHMOne last quick question. When Hillary Clinton arrived, pardon me, late to the stage after a commercial break, was that a power move, or just tardiness?
PAGEThere's a story that says Liz Smith, who works for a rival campaign, was in the woman's room when she was trying to get into the woman's room during the break. And that that was what delayed her.
REHMReally a totally understandable explanation.
PAGEThe Boston Globe has a story this morning on this crucial issue.
REHMAll right, and expand restrooms for women. Can we do that? Susan Page of USA Today, Fred Yang of Garin Hart Yang Research Group, Stuart Rothenberg, Rothenberg and Gonzales Political Report as well as a columnist for Roll Call. Thank you all.
ROTHENBERGThank you, Diane.
YANGThank you very much.
REHMGreat to see you. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year. Happy Holidays. Thanks all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.