It wasn’t an official debate, but it was close.
Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton took the stage separately Wednesday night in a “presidential town hall” forum on CNN. Moderator Anderson Cooper and New Hampshire voters peppered them with questions ranging from the political to the personal. Each candidate got an hour to themselves, dedicating much of their time to outlining their respective visions — but neither shied away from taking swipes at their rival backstage.
Here are the moments that stood out:
Will the real progressives please stand up?
At the heart of Wednesday’s back-and-forth between Clinton and Sanders was a battle for the soul of the progressive movement. Twice, Sanders pointed to a line Clinton delivered back in September, pleading “guilty” to “being kind of moderate and center.”
“There’s nothing wrong with being moderate. Some of my best friends are moderates,” Sanders said at an afternoon press conference. “But you can’t go around saying ‘I’m a progressive,’ and then say ‘I’m accused of being a moderate and I plead guilty to that.'”
On Wednesday night though, Clinton struck back. “I was somewhat amazed today that Senator Sanders set himself up to be the gatekeeper on who is the progressive,” she told Anderson Cooper, “because under the definition flying around on Twitter and statements by the campaign, Barack Obama would not be a progressive.”
The Return of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy
Not much has changed in twenty years. Tonight, Cooper asked Clinton about that famous conspiracy theory she coined back in the 90’s.
“Do you still believe there’s a vast right-wing conspiracy?” he asked.
“Don’t you?” Clinton replied, without skipping a beat.
“It’s gotten even better funded. You know, they brought in some new multi-billionaires to pump the money in,” she added, “Look, these guys play for keeps. They want to control our country.”
Clinton Defends Her Paid Speaking Fees – Again
Clinton still can’t escape questions about her hefty speaking fees. When asked by Cooper if she had to be paid $650,000 for one speech, Clinton offered a blunt reply.
“I don’t know,” she said. “That’s what they offered.”
Pressed further, a flustered Clinton explained that other secretaries of states have taken speaking fees and argued she did not know she would be running for president when she accepted them.
“I don’t feel that I paid any price for it,” she said.
Candidates Open up About Spirituality
Bernie Sanders does not regularly talk about his Jewish faith on the campaign trail, but when asked about the importance of spirituality in his life Wednesday night, Sanders was unwavering in his response. “I would not be here tonight, I would not be running for president of the United States if I did not have very strong religious and spiritual feelings,” he said. Though he did not use the word God, the Vermont senator said he is driven by his faith and an idea that what happens to one person, “impacts” him.
“I worry very much about a society where some people spiritually say, ‘It doesn’t matter to me. I got it. I don’t care about other people.’ So my spirituality is that we are all in this together and that when children go hungry, when veterans sleep out on the street, it impacts me. That’s my very strong spiritual feelings,” Sanders said.
A rabbi asked Hillary Clinton about how she weighs ego and humility, and the former secretary of state, who has spent over two decades in the public spotlight, gave a very personal answer about seeking guidance from faith-based literature.
“I read a treatment of the prodigal son parable by a Jesuit poet,” she said, “There was a line in it that became just a lifeline for me and it basically is, practice the discipline of gratitude. So regardless of how hard the days are, how difficult the decisions are, be grateful, be grateful for being a human being, being part of the universe, be grateful for your limitations.”
Funnyman Bernie Sanders
Asked if Sanders had an imitation of David, Sanders started to talk, in what seemed to be an accentuated version of his own Brooklyn-via-Burlington accent.
“Are you doing Larry David right now?” CNN moderator Anderson Cooper asked.
“I am Larry David,” Sanders replied. “And you didn’t get it.” (Not sure anyone did.)