Hillary Clinton tried at a Democratic forum Friday to soften her rhetoric on the death penalty and foreign policy while avoiding giving any answers that would alienate a general electorate.
At a South Carolina forum hosted by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Clinton worked to soften the edges on two areas where she is more hawkish than much of her party, a move that required her to walk a fine line with some answers.
In response to a question on the death penalty, she said that while she supports it in some cases, she would not be disappointed if the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional. Although she’s taken more hawkish positions than President Obama on issues from Libya to Syria, she said that she would not be more aggressive on foreign policy than he has been.
At the same time, Clinton made a pitch for keeping a big tent. “We need to understand more about why people either are not voting at all, leaving the field to maybe those they disagree with or whose interests are not the same, or why other people don’t trust the Democratic Party or a progressive approach to solving these problems,” she said.
The forum began with former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, both of whom faced similar questions and sought to appeal to the Democratic base.
While her two rivals took shots at Clinton and made their case, Clinton seemed to already be looking ahead to her potential Republican opponents.
In one of her most carefully worded answers, Clinton hedged her opposition to the death penalty.
“I do think a number of states, predominantly but not exclusively in the South, have moved much too quickly to try people for capital offenses that carry the death penalty,” Clinton said. “If the Supreme Court said, ‘No, it violates the 8th Amendment, it’s cruel and unusual punishment,’ I would breathe a sigh of relief about that.”
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But, she added, “I do have some, you know, questions about removing it completely for terrorism, as an example.”
Clinton mentioned Timothy McVeigh and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as the types of terrorists who could deserve the death penalty. “So there are some really heinous crimes that are, in my view, still arguably ones that should potentially have the death penalty.”
O’Malley, by contrast, boasted of outlawing the death penalty in Maryland as Governor in 2013.
Clinton has pushed for greater American involvement in Syria and advocated for U.S. intervention in Libya as secretary of state, both issues that put her at odds with President Obama. She also was one of the stronger voices on Obama’s Cabinet in favor of the mission to kill Osama bin Laden.
Clinton was asked whether she would more aggressive around the world than Obama.
“No, here’s why,” Clinton said. “I want us to use diplomacy, which is why I spent 18 months putting together the sanctions against Iran, so that we could force them to the negotiating table to try to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon and end the talk of bombing them and going to war against them, but instead using diplomacy.”
But Clinton also made clear she would be ready to use the military, which a significant majority of Americans support in Syria. “However,” Clinton continued, “I will not— I think it’s irresponsible—to rule out force. I just will not do that.”
Sanders has strongly criticized Clinton’s vote in favor of the Iraq War, and on Friday gave some of his most detailed foreign policy ideas for the Middle East of the campaign, saying that Muslim countries near Syria need to “roll up their sleeves and get their troops on the ground and start taking on ISIS in a way they have not yet done.” He opposes a no-fly zone over Syria, which Clinton favors.
During a round of more light-hearted questioning, Rachel Maddow asked Clinton whether she was an introvert or an extrovert. “Extrointrovert,” Clinton answered, saying that she “loves” spending time with people on the campaign trail but she also likes to spend time alone to “think and relax, and sleep, and stuff like that.”
She outright refused to answer, however, which Republican candidate she would chose if forced as her running mate. “I know, I know you’re going to be disappointed, I know that, you know, people are going to say I dodge the question. The fact is, I am dodging it. I don’t want to pick any of them,” she said.
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