Highlights from the Third Democratic Debate, December 19, 2015

candidates_demdebate_dec19_798On December 19th, the three remaining Democratic candidates met at Saint Anselm College in New Haven for a debate on domestic and international security and progressive priorities such as income inequality and college affordability. Moderated by ABC’s Martha Raddatz and David Muir, the debate happened just days after a bug in NGP VAN software allowed staffers on the Sanders campaign to view voter data collected by the Clinton camp. That scuffle was addressed early on in the debate, as was the penalty imposed on the Sanders camp by the DNC; a temporary suspension of access from his own data, stored in NGP VAN, a DNC-contracted software company. For that and other highlights of the debate, check out the clips below.

Clinton Says ISIS uses Trump to Recruit 

One of the most controversial claims of the night came from Hillary Clinton: her assertion that Donald Trump’s racism and bigotry were being used by ISIS to find new recruits. Trump later called Clinton a liar for that assertion, and various fact-checking sources seem to agree: there hasn’t been any evidence that Trump himself is used in ISIS propaganda. Clinton was likely referring to a common and factual talking point among the left, used to counter Trump’s anti-Muslim claims: that ISIS tells prospective recruits that they are engaged in an Apocalyptic struggle with the West, which will never accept their religion.

Clinton Uses The Bathroom, Apparently

Though most debate contracts have in them a clause forbidding camera crews from showing images of empty podiums (they are rife with negative metaphor), this particular debate seemed unencumbered by such restrictions. Clinton walked out to her podium during Bernie Sanders’ answer to the first question after a commercial break. Donald Trump later said of the scheduling glitch, “I know where she went. It’s disgusting. I don’t want to talk about it, it’s disgusting.”

Sanders and Clinton Half-Bury the Hatchet

After Thursday’s scandal involving up to four staffers on the Sanders campaign taking advantage of a security weakness in a Democratic data company’s software to view proprietary Clinton campaign data, the topic was among the first issues of the debate. Sanders, whose own campaign’s access to its data was suspended during the brief investigation and subsequent lawsuit over the breach, apologized to Clinton and his own supporters for activity he said was unbecoming of his campaign’s message. Clinton accepted the current inquiry into security issues with the vendor in question, NGP VAN, and said that most Americans were uninterested in the scandal, for which she received a loud applause break.

O’Malley Doubles Down on Accepting Syrian Refugees

Martin O’Malley used the majority of his time during the debate — which, perhaps a reflection of his campaign’s poor performance thus far, wasn’t much — to voice his opposition to the increasingly hostile tone of many Republican candidates, most notably Donald Trump, toward Muslims, especially Syrian refugees. When asked directly whether he would support the widely-held Republican assertion that the U.S. should restrict the processing of refugees from Syria, he repeated what has become a frequent call in his campaign: that the U.S. ought to be committed to accepting refugees in proportion to how serious the situation on the ground is in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere.

Sanders Stands Up For His Record on Guns

In response to Martin O’Malley’s aggressive take on the gun control debate — the former Maryland governor accused both of his opponents of taking politically convenient votes on the issue — Bernie Sanders defended his record of standing against assault rifles. Sanders, who represents the largely pro-gun rights state of Vermont in the U.S. Senate, has come under fire for his reluctance in the past to endorse specific gun restrictions favored by the most of the left, but he said in no uncertain terms that his commitment to curbing gun violence was absolute.

Clinton on the UN Security Council

Recalling her time as Secretary of State, and in particular a day of intense negotiation in June of 2012, Clinton urged that America support the recent UN Security Council vote for a global effort to replace Bashar al Assad as the leader of Syria. In exploring the complex diplomatic and political maneuvering necessary to wrangle this success at the UN, Clinton showed her experience on the international stage and exposed a parallel weakness in both of her competitors — their experience is almost exclusively in domestic politics.

Sanders and Clinton Spar on Priorities in Syria

In addressing the most-talked about issue of the presidential campaign in recent weeks, both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton asserted their conviction that fighting ISIS in Syria through a multi-national coalition, and primarily through air strikes, should be a priority for the United States. Clinton went a step further, though, echoing the calls she made as secretary of state that the United States should be involved in Bashar al Assad’s ouster as the leader of Syria. Sanders — and O’Malley, who invoked often fruitless antagonisms of the Cold War — urged that the United States ought not be the world’s policeman with regard to Assad and the orchestration of an immediate transfer of power to a different, democratically-elected leader.

Clinton’s Star Wars Moment

Her final remark in the debate was her most impactful, at least according to Twitter mentions. This either says a lot about the popularity of Star Wars in our cultural zeitgeist, or very little about how much attention Saturday night debates receive on Twitter. Either way, Secretary Clinton bid farwell to her audience with a classic: “thank you, good night, and may the force be with you.”

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