Op-ed: Taking debate

  • By Bob Franken
  • Saturday, October 17, 2015 3:38pm
  • Opinion

It’s not just Hillary Clinton who can play political mind games. Bernie Sanders is no slouch either. There he was at the Democratic debate ostensibly defending Hillary as she got still more nagging questions about her evasions over her private emailing setup when she was secretary of state. Then it was Bernie to the rescue: “Let me say something that may not be great politics, but I think the secretary is right, and that is that the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.” Hillary responded like one would expect, saying with a wide smile, “Thank you, Bernie” and taking his hand, while the devoted Democrats in the audience gave the two of them a big hand of their own.

First of all, Sen. Sanders, as you know full well, it was in fact “great politics” for you to say that. Rarely are you described as “gallant,” but you certainly appeared to be in that moment. Second, whether the “American people are sick and tired of hearing” about it or not, which is doubtful given how the polls show a major distrust of Hillary Clinton, we’ll continue hearing much more about those “damn emails.”

Let it be said, as everybody has, that she did a really great job debating, showing a confident style and command not just of the issues but of the other candidates who tried to take her on. So did Sanders. By the way, the debate got CNN a surprising huge rating; those who tuned in instead of watching the major-league playoffs were treated to a lively show. But in baseball terms, this was just batting practice for Hillary. The real game comes the week following, when she appears before the Benghazi committee, where many of the Republicans will be throwing email beanballs at her.

One would think that if she ducks successfully or if she throws stuff right back at them, then she might put the issue behind her, that the suspicions might sound repetitious and tiresome. As big a deal as the hearing is to the GOP, it’s more so to Joe Biden.

The vice president, of course, has a big decision to make, and quickly. Filing deadlines are fast approaching. While he’s explained that the death of his son has made him question his ability to focus on a challenge to Hillary, another consideration has to be whether it’s worth the effort or whether she’s got the nomination sewn up. She certainly put a stop to the unraveling with her debate performance, and if she puts the snarling House Republicans in their place, Biden will have to decide whether the uphill climb is too steep. He barely came up during the debate, although CNN wasted no opportunity to report that there was an extra podium ready in case he showed up and declared he was in.

For once, it wasn’t the Donald Trump show. Not that he could resist trying to horn in a little bit. But about the best gimmick he could concoct was tweeting about the back-and-forth, which is really a bit nebbishy. So was the stuff he sent: “Sorry there is no STAR on the stage tonight” just didn’t really cut it in the snark department, causing one to wonder if The Donald is running out of gas. Or perhaps he was having an off night because not being the center of attention put him off his game.

Hopefully by now we’ve learned not to count him out. In this case, the Trumpster has a turn hosting “Saturday Night Live” Nov. 7. The show certainly gave Hillary some new momentum, and maybe it’ll provide him with some juice. By the way, his “SNL” turn happens almost exactly a year before the election, a long time. By then, we’ll be tired of the entire damn campaign.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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