On the Debate Debate

So, over the past couple of days, a debate has been raging about Bernie Sanders asking Hillary Clinton for more debates, and Clinton aide Joel Benenson having told CNN's Kate Bolduan that Clinton won't agree to more debates unless Sanders changes his tone:
There's no risk. She's done well in the debates. But Senator Sanders doesn't get to decide when we debate, particularly when he's running a negative campaign. Let's see if he goes back to the kind of tone he said he was going to set early on. If he does that, then we'll talk about debates.

...We'll see what kind of tone he sets. If his campaign wants to run the kind of negative campaign and run negative ads like they did in North Carolina and Illinois all over the country on March 15th, that's going to be disappointing to a lot of Democrats who feel we have to start focusing on Republicans, whether it's Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, and about our differences so we win in November. That's what Democrats ought to be doing. That's what she's doing.
This, naturally, unleashed a firestorm, and there are plenty of articles care of the corporate media, as well as hashtags full of Sanders supporters, criticizing and ridiculing Clinton for suggesting that Sanders' tone has been inappropriate.

For the record, Clinton has not ruled out a debate in New York.

My guess is that Clinton will end up debating Sanders, just as she relented and agreed to more debates after their originally agreed-upon schedule once before. But if she doesn't, I frankly feel like that's fine. There have been more than enough debates by now.

Just to be clear, if the situation were reversed, and Clinton wanted more debates at this point and Sanders didn't, I would also defend his right to take a pass, irrespective of his reasons.

But of course it's her reason that's at issue.

Personally, I find Clinton's condition not only eminently reasonable but good politics. We are bearing down on the general election, and any candidate with a chance at the nomination—which Sanders insists he still has—should be pivoting at this point to making their case against the Republican nominee.

Which, as Berenson noted, Clinton has started to do. In her an op-ed for the New York Daily News on gun reform, she went directly and forcefully after Republicans:
Of course, all of the Republican candidates march in lockstep with the gun lobby.

Donald Trump has called the NRA's efforts to stop gun safety reforms "invaluable." He has vowed to "un-sign" all of President Obama's executive actions to strengthen background checks. And he has pledged that on his very first day in office he would override laws that prevent people from carrying guns into schools.

When he isn't cooking bacon on the barrel of an automatic rifle, Ted Cruz is earning his lifetime NRA "A+ rating" in the Senate by voting against comprehensive background checks. He even signed a letter pledging to "oppose any legislation" to address gun violence.

It's time we stand up to the Republicans and the gun lobby and stand with parents who have lost their children to gun violence.
And in a speech at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she let loose on the Republican Party, their odious front runner, and their Supreme Court obstructionism:
"Donald Trump didn't come out of nowhere," Clinton said in a speech at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "What Republicans have sown with their extremist tactics, they're now reaping with Trump's candidacy."

"Once you make the extreme normal, you open the door to even worse," she added.

In the speech, Clinton asked voters to consider – "as scary as it might be" – who Trump might pick to fill the supreme court vacancy after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February. The president has nominated Judge Merrick Garland, but Republican leadership has refused to even grant him a hearing.

Clinton singled out Senate judiciary committee chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa who, along with Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, have committed to keeping Garland from having a hearing. The Republicans have argued that the next president should pick Scalia's replacement on the bench. She quoted Grassley, who has said that allowing Obama to pick the nominee is in effect denying voters a voice in shaping the Supreme Court.

"As one of the more than 65 million Americans who voted to re-elect Barack Obama, I'd say my voice is being ignored," Clinton argued. Then, she said: "I'm adding my voice to the chorus asking Senator Grassley to step up and do his job. He should hold a hearing."
Meanwhile, Sanders is continuing to make attacks on Clinton, her fundraising, her speaking fees, her ties to the Democratic establishment, etc.

He would certainly use further debates to do the same, even though, at this point in the primary, he should be more invested in weakening the Republicans than the other possible (and likely) Democratic nominee.

He's still running against Clinton, using negative campaigning in which he promised he'd never engage, while she is already looking forward to the fight that awaits whichever one of them wins.

And, frankly, it's a timely reminder that Clinton hasn't weathered decades of Republican attacks by accident or luck. She is a savvy and fearless fighter, with an abundance of moxie and the skills to articulate laser-focused critiques of her career opponents.

Sanders might do well to consider showing us he can keep up, if indeed he can.

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