It didn’t take but a minute for Bernie Sanders to suggest Democratic rival Hillary Clinton was a liar, as the pair clashed Thursday night in yet another debate.
From there, the night only got more heated. Sanders hit Clinton on trade deals and foreign affairs. Clinton hit back by pointing to Sanders’ disastrous interview with editors at the New York Daily News. It was the feistiest debate yet, and the night could leave each candidate badly bruised as they hobble toward another two months of primaries.
Clinton at one point late in the debate seemed to marvel that Sanders continued to challenge her, even as his pathway to the nomination was closing. “Describing the problem is a lot easier than trying to solve it,” Clinton said.
The increasingly acidic tone of the Democratic primary barreled into Brooklyn as the two debated for a ninth time. After months of benign—and, at times, banal—debates on substance, the Democrats have finally started to catch up with their Republican counterparts in terms of pointed jabs. The increasingly antagonistic timbre of the race mirrors Sanders’ increasingly difficult pathway to winning the nomination. (To be fair, Democrats are still miles away from the GOP brawl that has featured Donald Trump describing his genitals during one memorable debate.)
Still, it was a stunning start. “We’re doing something truly radical. We’re telling the American people the truth,” Sanders began the night. It was a less-than-subtle suggestion that Clinton was not doing the same. As the night progressed, he shouted over the former Secretary of State and repeatedly cut her off. He then went in for the kill over a 1990s quote from Clinton. “It was a racist term and everyone knew it was a racist term,” Sanders said, casting her support for her husband’s crime bill as implicit racism.
“We recognized that we have a set of problems that we cannot ignore and we must address,” Clinton said, saying the crime bill Sanders was referencing had unintended consequences for minority communities.
Clinton also came ready to parry. She then urged voters to read his transcript from a meeting with New York Daily News editors, in which Sanders was woefully under-prepared. “Talk about judgment. Talk about the kinds of problems he had answering questions about his core issue, breaking up the banks,” Clinton said.
Trying to shrug it off, Sanders repeated his claim that Clinton was too cozy with Wall Street—an industry she represented for eight years as a Senator from New York. Yet when asked for an example, Sanders could not. “Secretary Clinton was busy giving speeches to Goldman Sachs,” Sanders said.
Clinton, who collected hefty checks as a speaker, said Sanders was simply wrong. “This is a phony attack that is designed to raise questions when there is no evidence or support,” Clinton said. “He cannot come up with any example because there is no example.”
In one of the most remarkable moments in the debate, one perhaps unprecedented in recent presidential politics, Sanders pointedly challenged Clinton’s support for Israel, saying that the United States needs to be less “one-sided” in its support of the Middle Eastern democracy. Sanders’ line was a significant departure from the usual American line, which requires candidates to pay lip service to the United States’ commitment to Israel.
“You gave a major speech at AIPAC that obviously deals with the Middle East peace crisis,” Sanders said, “And you barely mentioned the Palestinians.”
Sanders said that Israel’s response to the Gaza missile attacks in 2014 was “disproportionate.” Clinton, however, did not directly address that charge, but noted that she had been critical of Israeli leaders in her State Department memoirs.
Gone was the once-civil tone between the Democrats. Bitter sniping from Sanders has driven the race in recent days. He called Clinton too “ambitious” and unqualified to be the President. Clinton has responded by casting him as a pie-in-the-sky idealist with zero understanding of how Washington actually works. Clinton defended her statements that Vermont guns were fueling New York violence. Sanders said Clinton was an unreliable ally for workers, and he was their only champion. Their supporters, meanwhile, are digging in, urging them to continue their fight all the way to the Democrats’ nominating convention in Philadelphia.
“Does Secretary Clinton have the experience and intelligence to be President? Of course she does. But I do question her judgment,” Sanders said. He went on to criticize her record on trade, foreign policy and campaign finance. “I don’t believe that is the kind of judgment we need to be the kind of President we need.”
Clinton laughed at Sanders’ suggestion that she was unqualified. “I’ve been called a lot of things in my lifetime. That was a first,” Clinton said. “President Obama trusted my judgment enough to be Secretary of State.”
The debate, broadcast on CNN, is likely the last time the pair will meet. The negotiations over the debate itself played out publicly, with the typically behind-the-scenes dealing becoming a proxy fight for the Democratic Party itself. Officials at the Democratic National Committee were exasperated by the whole process and were only half-heartedly considering adding more debates between the two warring candidates.