At debates, Hillary Clinton often answers direct questions like an attorney chewing over a difficult legal brief, while Bernie Sanders sounds like he’s writing bumper stickers.
The two Democratic presidential candidates differ on issues from health care to immigration, and their disagreements show in the way they answer the thorny questions posed by debate moderators in the eight times they’ve faced off.
Clinton, the Yale Law School graduate whose last job was as the nation’s top diplomat, tends to step lightly and avoid sweeping declarative statements that might cause trouble down the road. Sanders, the former activist and longtime independent, embraces absolutes.
On health care, Clinton defends the tradeoffs of the Affordable Care Act and calls for strengthening the law through careful tweaks; Sanders supports universal health care for everyone. On trade, Clinton wants to look carefully at future trade deals before deciding and restructure the tax code to discourage corporate inversions; Sanders opposes free trade deals.
The difference was highlighted again Wednesday as the two met in Miami for a debate co-hosted by CNN and Spanish-language network Univision. Moderator Jorge Ramos attempted four times to pin down Clinton on whether she would deport undocumented children.
“Will you deport children?” Ramos asked Clinton.
“Let me say this. I would give every person, but particularly children, due process to have their story told. And a lot of children will, of course, have very legitimate stories under our law to be able to stay,” Clinton said before several rounds of questioning, as she explained she would deport criminals and push for comprehensive immigration reform. Clinton finally answered, “I will not,” before ending on a slightly ambiguous note: “I do not want to see them deported,” she said of the undocumented.
But when it was Sanders’ turn, his answer would fit in a tweet. “No, I will not deport children from the United States of America,” he said.
The differences stem in large part from their backgrounds. As First Lady, U.S. Senator and Secretary of State, Clinton has been at center stage of national politics, absorbing body blows of criticism for her views since 1992, while Sanders has represented the nation’s second-smallest state as an independent as a U.S. Representative and then Senator during that same time period. She has learned to temper criticism by couching everything in nuance, while Sanders drew more attention for making provocative arguments.
The two are also waging very different campaigns. Clinton has played the cautious frontrunner, eager to get through the primary fight without committing herself to positions that would hurt her in the fall against a Republican opponent. Sanders, meantime, is cast in the role of the underdog with nothing to lose, attempting to change the terms of the debate by staking out bold positions.
The difference showed up at Sunday’s debate hosted by CNN in Flint, Michigan. The two Democratic contenders were asked whether they support fracking as a method of removing natural gas from the ground. Clinton delivered a nuanced answer explaining that she opposes it unless it meets strict conditions. She showed an understanding of methane release, the chemicals used in fracking and various regulations on the practice.
Her final answer? It’s complicated. “By the time we get through all my conditions, I do not think there will be many places in America where fracking will continue to take place,” Clinton said.
Sanders did not hesitate. “My answer is a lot shorter,” Sanders said. “No, I do not support fracking.”
The difference came up again at Wednesday’s debate. Clinton has proposed making college debt-free, a plan that would involve giving grants to states to lower costs and allowing students to refinance their loans, among other measures. Sanders, on the other hand, has proposed eliminating tuition at public colleges altogether.
“I do believe we should make public colleges and universities tuition-free, and I don’t believe we should punish millions of young and not-so-young people with outrageous levels of student debt,” Sanders said during the debate.
When Sanders was asked directly if he would allow even real estate mogul Donald Trump’s children to go to college for free under his plan—a criticism Clinton often levels at him—he answered unequivocally with a single word.
“Absolutely!” he said.