Ninth Democratic Debate: Where Each Candidate Excelled and Faltered

Candidates took a bite out of each other in the Big Apple

This two-picture combination shows US Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton (L) and Bernie Sanders before the CNN Democratic Presidential Debate at the Brooklyn Navy Yard on April 14, 2016 in New York. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders take their increasingly acrimonious battle for the Democratic White House nomination to a debate stage in Brooklyn on Thursday ahead of the key New York primary. / AFP / Jewel SAMAD

Hillary Clinton (L) and Bernie Sanders before the CNN Democratic Presidential Debate at the Brooklyn Navy Yard on April 14. (Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

We’re on the cusp of yet another presidential primary—this time in New York. Democrats had originally agreed to just six debates—most likely to protect the party’s preferred candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, from getting attacked by rivals—but have since agreed to more debates. This was the ninth.

It has become increasingly clear that the two candidates—Ms. Clinton and her rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders—have realized they can’t just “go along to get along” to win the nomination. The first few debates were practical lovefests between the candidates, with Mr. Sanders even defending Ms. Clinton’s use of a private email server that may have exposed U.S. secrets to enemy nations.

But now, with the candidates separated by a few hundred delegates (Ms. Clinton pulls way ahead when superdelegates are included), the atmosphere at the debates has become more thorny. So let’s take a look at where each candidate landed some hits.

Hillary Clinton

Where she floundered: Her continued refusal to release the transcripts of her speeches to Goldman Sachs hurts her, and makes her look even more secretive and untrustworthy than already thought. When she was first asked the question, she completely ignored it and spoke about the other companies that were also involved in the Great Recession. When asked a second time about releasing her transcripts—since that was the question asked—Ms. Clinton returned to her lame claim that she would release her transcripts when everyone else released hers.

“I have said, look, there are certain—there are certain expectations when you run for president. This is a new one,” Ms. Clinton said. “And I’ve said, if everybody agrees to do it—because there are speeches for money on the other side. I know that.”

But other candidates aren’t claiming they would tackle an industry while raking in millions of dollars in speaking fees from it. That’s why the American people are interested in her transcripts, especially when her rival’s entire campaign is built around the idea that he wouldn’t kowtow to the Big Banks.

Where she excelled: Ms. Clinton did well when she pointed out that Mr. Sanders’ ideas sound good but aren’t practical.

“It’s easy to diagnose the problem,” Ms. Clinton said. “It’s harder to do something about the problem.”

The American people—especially young Americans—need to really think hard about how we as a nation would pay for Mr. Sanders’ proposals. Taxing the rich sounds well and good, but you can only take so much of people’s money before they start doing things to counteract that. And Mr. Sanders has said previously that he would be open to raising taxes on the middle class to pay for health care. Do young Americans think they will never be middle or upper class?

Bernie Sanders

Where he floundered: Mr. Sanders came off as too angry, too negative and too sarcastic during this debate. He’s been called out for his “tone” when he interrupts Ms. Clinton (her campaign has tried to make it about sexism since their entire campaign is about gender), but Thursday night’s debate really saw Mr. Sanders not acting presidential.

Where he excelled: While Ms. Clinton got in some good hits against Mr. Sanders for having ideas without practical solutions, that vision still plays well with many voters on the Democratic side. Ms. Clinton tried on Thursday night to attach herself to President Obama, but Mr. Sanders is far more like the current president as a candidate than the former secretary of state. Mr. Obama also spoke in broad, unattainable ideals, just like Mr. Sanders.

At least Mr. Sanders is a little more honest about what it will take to achieve his proposals (massive tax hikes on everyone).