What You Missed in the 8th Democratic Debate

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Democratic presidential hopefuls debate in Miami
It was pretty fiesty, for a Democratic debate. Photo: PATRICK FARRELL/2016 MCT

Compared to GOP debates, Democratic forums are usually dull affairs, but nothing enlivens a discussion like one candidate scoring a historic primary upset on the eve of the debate. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders clashed on a variety of topics during Wednesday night’s debate in Miami, including immigration policy, Cuba, and big, beautiful border walls. Or rather, they clashed as much as they could, considering that the moderators from Univision and the Washington Post seemed to switch topics whenever they got into a meaty discussion. Here are the highs and lows. 

Most Determined Moderator
María Elena Salinas, who kicked off the debate by asking Hillary Clinton the political question of the week: “Where did you fail last night in Michigan?” Naturally, Clinton focused on the positive, noting that she actually won Mississippi last night and scored more delegates. Salinas wasn’t looking for a typical politician answer, so she followed up with “What went wrong in Michigan? What went wrong in Michigan? What went wrong in Michigan? What failed in Michigan specifically?” Clinton declined to bare her soul.

Most Effective Badgering
Moderator Jorge Ramos got Sanders and Clinton to promise not to deport children or undocumented immigrants with no criminal record.

Most Irrelevant Argument in a Race Involving Donald Trump
After taking a variety of immigration positions over the years, are Clinton and Sanders just “Hispandering” when they say they want comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship? Maybe, but on the other hand, neither has suggested Mexico is sending over droves of rapists and murderers.

Trump’s Favorite Question of the Night
Univision wanted to make it clear that they aren’t in the tank for Clinton, though Ramos’s daughter works for her campaign and Univision chairman Haim Saban contributed $2.5 million to a pro-Clinton super-pac. Thus, rather than posing the same question about why Clinton used a private email server, Ramos asked, “Would you drop out of the race if you get indicted?” (The FBI probe of Clinton’s email habits isn’t likely to end with her being indicted, though Trump keeps claiming she may be forced out of the race.)

Clinton recited her typical answer, but when pressed again on the indictment, she responded, “Oh, for goodness — that’s not going to happen. I’m not even answering that question.”

Worst Trump-Related Hedging
Donald Trump always says what he means (according to Donald Trump), but his potential Democratic rivals could not answer the simple question “Is Donald Trump a racist?” Clinton noted that she was one of the first who “said basta” to his offensive rhetoric, and Sanders commented, “I think that the American people are never going to elect a president who insults Mexicans, who insults Muslims, who insults women, who insults African-Americans.”

Later in the debate, Sanders remarked that on the issue of immigration, he and Clinton "do not, as Donald Trump and others have done, resort to racism and xenophobia and bigotry," so it’s unclear why he didn’t just say "yes, Trump is a racist."

Worst Dictator-Related Hedging
When asked, "Would you consider Raul Castro a president or a dictator?" Clinton gave a meandering answer on Cuba, but eventually she did conclude, "I think both Castros have to be considered authoritarian and dictatorial because they are not freely chosen by the people that are in Cuba."

Best Case for Building Trump’s Border Wall
When asked to explain her border-security plan, Clinton said she and Sanders both voted to increase the number of border-security agents, and provide “money to build a fence, a pedestrian fence in some place, a vehicle fence in other places.”

Pressed on how that’s different from Trump’s glorious border wall, Clinton joked, “First of all, as I understand him, he’s talking about a very tall wall … Right? A beautiful tall wall. The most beautiful tall wall, better than the Great Wall of China, that would run the entire border. That he would somehow magically get the Mexican government to pay for.” She noted that’s “just a fantasy,” but you have to admit, his wall sounds way cooler.

Most Disappointing Abortion Question
Eight debates in, the Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty finally asked the Democratic candidates about reproductive rights, noting that the Supreme Court “is considering the most significant abortion restrictions in a generation.” The rest of the question was actually about who the candidates would nominate to the bench, but Clinton did say, “I would look for people who believe that Roe v. Wade is settled law and that Citizens United needs to be overturned as quickly as possible.”

Biggest Proof Clinton Has Been Studying Her Opposition Research
When the moderators played a clip from a 1985 interview in which Sanders spoke positively about Cuba’s communist government, he insisted his point was that he’s against the Monroe Doctrine, or the idea that “the United States had the right do anything they wanted do in Latin America.”

Later, Clinton attacked Sanders for praising “the revolution of values in Cuba” in an un-aired section of the video. “I just couldn’t disagree more,” she said. “If the values are that you oppress people, you disappear people, you imprison people or even kill people for expressing their opinions, for expressing freedom of speech, that is not the kind of revolution of values that I ever want to see anywhere.”

Question That Deserved a Longer Response — Say, 11 Hours
When Ramos asked Clinton if she lied to the families of the victims of the Benghazi attack, the audience booed loudly, probably because there just wasn’t enough time to delve into this seldom-covered topic in a two-hour debate.

Best Round of Six Degrees of Separation, Foreign-Policy Edition
Given just 30 seconds to follow up on Clinton’s Benghazi response, Sanders said he wouldn’t comment on the tragedy itself, but “Gadhafi was a brutal dictator,” unlike Clinton he’s “not quite so aggressive with regard to regime change,” which is why he “voted against the war in Iraq,” and “winning the praise of Henry Kissinger, I don’t want Henry Kissinger’s praise at all.” A moderator cut Sanders off, but we’re sure he was about to mention that Kissinger appeared in a New York City tourism campaign with Kevin Bacon.