Democratic Debate #3: Hillary Clinton Invokes The Jedi Force to Vanquish Sith Lord Trump

Feature image via Getty

The prediction leading into 2015’s third Democratic debate was that Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders would spend several hours engaged in a brutal fisticuffs over his campaign’s data breech and subsequent lawsuit against the Democratic National Convention for revoking his access to the crucial Democratic voter network and further greasing the skids for Clinton. Most of the pre-debate coverage ABC tricked me into watching centered around the controversy, as did the political news cycle all day Friday and Saturday. Mike O’Malley certainly believed it would be the case, because a quick five minutes into the New Hampshire debate, after Sanders politely apologized and Clinton politely accepted his apology, the former Maryland governor came out swinging, accusing the two Democratic frontrunners of wasting everyone’s time bickering while he was hunkered down to do the hard work of fixing the country.

The opening exchange set the tone for the entire evening: Clinton and Sanders made it clear that while they’re not pals, they understand their real adversary is the Republican party; and O’Malley annoyed everyone all not long, including the moderators, by reminding them he exists.

Below are the top five takeaways from the New Hampshire debate.

1. Hillary Clinton isn’t running against Sanders or O’Malley anymore.

In what sometimes came off as a one-on-one sit-down interview with moderator Martha Raddatz, Clinton spent most of the night discussing the intricacies of foreign policy, highlighting her experience and successes as Secretary of State and showcasing a vast, nuanced understanding of the challenges the United States faces in the Middle East, particularly in its battle against ISIS. Multiple times, she called out the GOP for its un-American bigotry and bluster, warning that their rhetoric has the potential alienate the very people the U.S. needs to partner with to destroy ISIS. She spent much more time going after Republican candidates than either Sanders or O’Malley, projecting confidence that the nomination is in her pocket and trying to minimize the perceived differences between the three of them.

2. Bernie Sanders, however, is still very much running against Hillary Clinton.

Sanders smartly seized on every debate question that could spotlight the differences between him and Clinton, sometimes deftly nudging his way into the conversation in a way O’Malley could not manage to do. As expected, Sanders reminded the audience more than once that Clinton voted for the Iraq War in 2002, while he did not, and said that it will go down as one of the biggest U.S. foreign policy blunders in history. He also pointed out that while Clinton seems to favor regime change at any cost, a decision that often leaves a power vacuum that allows terrorist organizations to gain ground and followers, he favors a more cooperative approach to dealing with leaders in the Middle East. Sanders also doubled down on his plans for single-payer healthcare and free college tuition. (Clinton favors tweaking Obamacare and providing free tuition for community college/better aid for four-year college.)

Sanders really seemed to enjoy himself when the conversation turned toward domestic policy, where most of his differences with Clinton lie. After sparring with her over healthcare, he smiled and said, “Now, this is getting fun!” While Clinton’s nomination seems like a foregone conclusion, Sanders and his team remember that she had a bigger lead on President Obama at this point in 2008 than she does over Sanders right now.

3. Honestly, no one knows what O’Malley is still doing in the race.

O’Malley didn’t get any love from anyone. Not from Clinton and Sanders, who moved in tandem between ignoring him and tag-teaming him. Not from the moderators, who shushed him repeatedly while allowing Sanders and Clinton to talk over them. Not from the live audience at St. Anselm College; they groaned in unison when he basically called Clinton and Sanders The Olds, and asked to step in and share “a different generation’s view.” Experts believe O’Malley will drop out after the New Hampshire vote, which takes place on February 9. He’s getting absolutely crushed in the polls and did nothing to endear himself to the voters who’ll participate in the first-in-the-nation primary.

4. ABC really did expect Clinton and Sanders to brawl over data.

The domestic policy questions should have lasted the full second half of the debate, but the moderators seemed to run out of them, circling back around to foreign policy, with Raddatz asking Clinton questions that were nearly identical to the ones she’d posed early in the night, and asking for more detailed clarification. The real low point of the debate came when Raddatz talked around the idea of Bill Clinton as as a spouse in the White House and then asked Hillary if he’d pick out flowers and china like all the other first ladies if she is elected president. It was the only question that seemed to fluster Clinton; she ultimately said she’d still pick out the china and flowers, thank you very much, and would consider her husband’s opinion on economic policy. In a classy follow-up move, Sanders responded by saying Hillary Clinton actually redefined what it means to be first lady, and explained why his wife is one of his most important advisers and would be a valued addition to his team in the White House.

5. Clinton and Sanders want to run against Donald Trump.

The only GOP candidate whose name came up last night was Donald Trump’s, and both Sanders and Clinton said it repeatedly; not only because Trump is the Republican frontrunner, or because he has been the most egregiously racist and xenophobic during this primary season, but also because they very much want him to get the Republican nomination. It was clear last night that Sanders and Clinton are both repulsed by Trump’s antics and feel confident that their approaches to Americanism and actual experience governing this country will allow them to wipe the floor with Trump in a general election. “On our worst day, we have a lot more to offer the American people than the right wing extremists,” Sanders said in his closing statement. Clinton struck out even more fiercely in her closing statement, pulling in women and LGBT people and reminding them that the GOP is as happy to scapegoat them and take away their rights as they are to scapegoat and take away the rights of Muslims and immigrants.

Clinton brought down the house by ending her closing statement with: “Thank you, good night, and may The Force be with you!”

You can read a full transcript of last night’s debate here. May the Force be with us all.

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Heather Hogan

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior editor who lives in New York City with her wife, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Heather has written 1718 articles for us.


  1. I’m really curious to see how the Democratic primaries play out. I’m honestly torn at this point. I’d like to support Sanders, but I don’t think he’s the most realistic candidate. I’d love single-payer healthcare and free college tuition, but let’s be real, that’s never going to happen. How many times has Congreas tried to dismantle the ACA? And how exactly is the nation going to finance every citizen’s college tuition, other than by raising taxes?

    Hillary is more realistic, I think. And I’m glad that she supports LGBT rights. But it does bother me that she supported the Iraq war. The last thing our nation needs is another needless war. I want a president who will Support our troops…. By NOT making them sacrifice their lives in a war that was never justified. (No disrespect to our veterans, of course)

    • “And how exactly is the nation going to finance every citizen’s college tuition, other than by raising taxes?”

      By not wasting trillions of dollars on bullets and bombs every year? Just a thought. Or yeah, raising taxes, on the people who should be paying more but aren’t.

      • I agree that there are ways that our country could reallocate spending so that all students could go to college, but WOULD we? (I really hope that one day we will, but I’m having a cynical morning today.) I mean, if Bernie won, I can’t help but think that he wouldn’t be able to pass anything that he’s promised… at all, really. We have a republican majority congress right now. Has he ever addressed how he would get around that?

        • Yeah, that’s kind of my thinking–much as I love Bernie and want him to be president and implement his ideas, I think Hillary has a much better chance of managing Congress.

          • Hi, I just want to point out that Bernie got more amendments passed than any candidate in a republican congress. He’s worked with republicans plenty. As an independent he’s been in the unique position to forge left-right coalitions.

            Anyway, what Bernie wants is a smarter, more engaged constituency. And that’s what the political revolution is about. He plans on using his position as President to ORGANIZE. He knows he can’t do it alone. We have a lot of potential to get a lot of progressives in office with him at the helm. In local and state elections alike! Do not underestimate him. He has the highest approval rating of any senator. Gets 25% of the republican vote in vermont. Doubled voter turnout in Burlington.

        • I don’t know about college in the US being entirely free, really.
          I’m from a country with free university education, but that is a lot more low key than the US system.
          You’d have to restructure that behemoth of very set traditions first, as you would with healthcare, tbh.
          Medical costs here are a tenth to a twentieth of what they are in the US, we pay 15% of our income for healthcare and still our social healthcare system is struggling (but working!)
          Getting anywhere near a medical system that works for everybody will take another decade,at least and Obamacare is at least a start.
          As much as I think that Bernie Sanders’ heart is in the right place, his idealism might be contraproductive in the end.
          Also, I just cannot see him face off against Putin or perennially and productively wrestle with the Republican House and Congress.
          Hillary seems to have more bite, and honestly, her experience cannot be undervalued as we are going into armed conflicts in the middle east.
          I’m still wondering if the Republicans aren’t building Trump up on purpose only to drop him in favor of someone else.

    • Hillary is extremely hawkish. This isn’t controversial. She said she wouldn’t put 100,000 troops in Syria. That’s political speak for, if she later sends 999,999, you can’t say she ever lied.

      This is what Bernie had to say about the Iraq war at the time it was up for a vote:

      I am concerned about the problems of so-called unintended consequences. Who will govern Iraq when Saddam Hussein is removed and what role will the U.S. play in ensuing a civil war that could develop in that country? Will moderate governments in the region who have large Islamic fundamentalist populations be overthrown and replaced by extremists? Will the bloody conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Authority be exacerbated? And these are just a few of the questions that remain unanswered.
      If a unilateral American invasion of Iraq is not the best approach, what should we do? In my view, the U.S. must work with the United Nations to make certain within clearly defined timelines that the U.N. inspectors are allowed to do their jobs. These inspectors should undertake an unfettered search for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and destroy them when found, pursuant to past U.N. resolutions. If Iraq resists inspection and elimination of stockpiled weapons, we should stand ready to assist the U.N. in forcing compliance.”

      Sounds like a commander in chief to me. Realistic af.

  2. Thank you for the recap! I was too busy flailing over Star Wars last night to watch it. I’m gonna have to watch some clips of it somewhere, as everyone who watched seems to be in agreement that it was the most policy oriented of all the debates so far.

  3. We were counting how many times o’malley blinked during each response. It was minimal. Dude’s a question-avoiding robot and it freaks me out.

    • Lack of blinking supposedly means focused thinking.
      People who do not say what they think and have to try hard to form a response are either viewed as untrustworthy or stupid.

      Neither view point helps a candidate’s image in politics.

      As your comment proves, is what I guess I’m trying to say.

  4. Go, Senator Sanders! As a lesbian, exploited college adjunct instructor, mother, child of a disabled father, and native of a small town dying of minimum wage, I can’t wait for him to be president. :) Let the future begin!

  5. Can Sanders and Clinton just team up and push Trump back into the fires of Mount Doom where he was forged?

    (I’m using LOTR because the only 2 good vs 1 representative of evil Star Wars example I can think of is from the Phantom Menace and that uh did not end well.
    One could even call it the beginning of the end.)

  6. Free college tuition is possible, but implies really hard work because first you need to change a very common idea, that everybody in the world seems to share: education is an expenditure for the State.

    I considered education the biggest investment any State could make. But, of course, this investment results are not immediate, if you want that maybe you should throw your money at Wall Street. Education is the same kind of investment as renewable energy sources, in the long run, the best investment you could make to guarantee your future.

  7. I didn’t get a chance to see the debate (really, who schedules a Presidental debate for a Saturday night?), so I am extremely thankful for this recap. It was the just right mix between humor and facts. Thanks Heather

  8. I feel like I’d still in many many ways prefer if Bernie was the one who came out on top, but honestly, I’m beginning to feel more like I could quite happily settle for Hilary.

    I kinda feel like even if we get Hilary, that Bernie really has helped push her to be more of a candidate that I would actually consider.

    • Please make sure to vote for Bernie in the primary.( Hillary is just pandering. We have no reason to trust her to follow through to any meaningful degree,when basically she’s just parroting Bernie’s ideas. Not to mention that she’s LYING about single payer: she knows it would save taxpayers money. An incredible disservice to the cause. I honestly don’t see how anyone could trust her. Bernie has been on the right side of the issues his whole adult life. He’s been an extremely successful and effective legislator for 30 years, and accomplished this without ever compromising his integrity.

  9. Thank you Heather — and Autostraddle — for another insightful political article!

    I too find myself really appreciating Bernie Sanders as a candidate, partly for what he has to say for himself, and partly because of the effect (as Kaylin also wrote) that he has had on Hillary Clinton. I find I like her better now than before Sanders came along. I gave $5 to both campaigns a month ago and it is seeming like money well spent.

    • LOL, that was my joke, but I don’t think it was a very good one because you’re the first person to notice!

  10. Let me be blunt here. If either Clinton or Trump get elected, lots of people will die. Of course that’ll happen abroad so nbd. Oh, the short sight.

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