Everything You Missed From the Democratic Debate You Probably Didn't Watch


On Saturday night, the Democratic presidential candidates met in Manchester, New Hampshire for the third debate of the primary season. The decision to hold the debate on the Saturday before the Christmas holiday ensured that basically no one would watch it.

Nonetheless, debate they did. Frontrunner Hillary Clinton entered the debate, hosted by ABC News, with a strong lead and on the offensive. On Thursday, staffers from the campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) were found to have improperly accessed voter data collected by the Clinton campaign through a glitch in the system maintained by the Democratic National Committee. The DNC cut off Sanders' access to its voter file until late Friday.

The first question of Friday's debate centered on the Sanders campaign's actions, but the debate quickly moved on to issues of terrorism, gun control, Donald Trump's proposed ban on Muslims and more. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley came to the stage eager for a fight, frequently sparring with the debate moderators and his fellow candidates.

Throughout the rest of the night, the candidates took aim at the Republican candidates as well as each other. Here's what you missed from the Democratic debate on Saturday night:

1. Sanders apologized to the Clinton campaign and his supporters over his campaign's breach of voter data.

The first question of the night was for Sanders, with co-moderator David Muir asking whether Sanders' "staffers [were] essentially stealing part of the Clinton playbook" by accessing data on Clinton voters.

Sanders admitted that his campaign "did the wrong thing," but went on the offensive, bashing the DNC for "arbitrarily, without discussing it with us, shut[ting] off our access to our own information, crippling our campaign. That is an egregious act."

Muir then asked Sanders if Clinton deserved an apology.

"Yes, I apologize," Sanders said. "I want to apologize to my supporters. This is not the type of campaign that we run, and if I find anybody else involved in this, they will also be fired."

Mic/ABC News

Clinton accepted the apology, saying "I very much appreciate that comment, Bernie. It really is important that we go forward on this ... We've agreed on an independent inquiry, we should move on because I don't think the American people are all that interested in this."

With that, the data issue was put to rest for the remainder of the night. — Stefan Becket

2. Clinton went after Trump for fanning the flames of anti-Muslim sentiment.

On multiple occasions, Clinton made the case for how working with the Muslim community rather than demonizing it is the best way to manage the emerging threat of attacks by the Islamic State militant group in the U.S., and singled out Trump as "ISIS's best recruiter."

"I worry greatly that the rhetoric coming from the Republicans, particularly Donald Trump, is sending a message to Muslims here in the United States and literally around the world that there is a clash of civilizations, that there is some kind of Western plot or even war against Islam, which then I believe fans the flames of radicalization," Clinton said.


The former secretary of state referred to the Muslim-American community as "the first line of defense against radicalization" in the nation — something she said former President George W. Bush recognized far more deeply than some of the top candidates in the current Republican presidential field.

"You know, I was a senator from New York after 9/11, and we spent countless hours trying to figure out how to protect the city and the state," Clinton said. "One of the best things that was done, and George W. Bush did this — and I give him credit — was to reach out to Muslim Americans and say, 'We're in this together.'" — Zeeshan Aleem

3. Sanders told O'Malley to "calm down" when debating guns.

When O'Malley lost his temper on Muir for his perceived lack of speaking time — possibly the first time the expression "Excuse me, no!" has been heard outside of a middle-school lunchroom — the Maryland governor steamrolled over Muir's attempts to enforce the debate's agreed-upon rules and forced a direct confrontation with Clinton and Sanders over their respective histories regarding gun control.

"There are profound differences in this race on this issue," O'Malley said. "Sen. Sanders voted against the Brady Bill, Sen. Sanders voted to give immunity to gun dealers, and Sen. Sanders voted against even research dollars to look into this public health issue. Secretary Clinton changes her position on this every election year, it seems, having one position in 2000 and then campaigning against President Obama and saying we don't need federal standards."

Mic/ABC News

"Look," O'Malley said after the conclusion of what appeared to be a well-rehearsed monologue, "what we need on this issue is not more polls. We need more principle."

Sanders, for his part, was unimpressed by O'Malley's attack on his voting record on gun control issues. "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa," he said avuncularly. "Let's calm down a little bit, Martin." The audience, shaken from the rest to which the former Maryland governor had lulled them, roared with laughter. Clinton chimed in, asking the governor to "tell the truth," and Muir, acknowledging shadily that the governor "clearly [had] a lot to say," reminded him that his own campaign had agreed to the rules of the debate. — Scott Bixby

4. Sanders said Trump's anti-immigrant positions distract from his economic policies.

Sanders took aim at the Republican frontrunner, and argued that Trump's anti-Muslim and anti-Mexican stances obscured Trump's positions on economic issues.

Sanders said that everyday Americans, while concerned about terrorism, were also anxious about income inequality and wages. He argued that Trump's rhetoric plays off those fears.

"Somebody like a Trump comes along and says, 'I know the answers. The answer is that all of the Mexicans, they're criminals and rapists. We've got to hate the Mexicans. Those are your enemies. We hate all the Muslims because all of the Muslims are terrorists. We've got to hate the Muslims,'" Sanders said, describing Trump's positions. "Meanwhile, the rich get richer."

Mic/Getty Images

"What I say to those people who go to Donald Trump's rallies — understand, he thinks a low minimum wage in America is a good idea," Sanders continued. "He thinks low wages are a good idea. I believe we stand together to address the real issues facing this country, not allow them to divide us by race or where we come from." — Stefan Becket

5. Sanders forcefully challenged Clinton's support for foreign regime change.

While Sanders' campaign has focused primarily on tackling economic inequality, he sharpened his contrast with Clinton on foreign policy Saturday night, arguing that as a senator and secretary of state, she'd been too quick to support toppling foreign regimes.

"I say this with due respect, that I worry too much that Secretary Clinton is too much into regime change and a little bit too aggressive without knowing what the unintended consequences might be," Sanders said. "Yes, we could get rid of Saddam Hussein, but that destabilized the entire region. Yes, we could get rid of [Libyan dictator Moammar] Gadhafi, a terrible dictator, but that created a vacuum for ISIS. Yes, we could get rid of [Syrian President Bashar] Assad tomorrow, but that would create another political vacuum that would benefit ISIS."

Pushing back, Clinton noted that Sanders had voted for a Senate resolution challenging Gadhafi's rule, and argued that not toppling Gadhafi would have fostered a civil war similar to that now engulfing Syria. Clinton disputed the notion that regional stability and getting rid of oppressive regimes are mutually exclusive; instead, she argued, not challenging the rule of figures like Syria's Assad means generating further unrest and instability. — Luke Brinker

6. O'Malley offered "a different generation's perspective" on foreign policy.

O'Malley, continuing his trend on Saturday night of launching unbidden interjections into debates between his better-polling Democratic rivals, answered a question no one asked after Sanders asserted that the fight against the Islamic State group requires a strong international coalition.

"May I offer a different generation's perspective on this?" O'Malley said, as the audience groaned.

"During the Cold War, we got into a bad habit of always looking to see who was wearing the jersey of the communists and who was wearing the U.S. jersey. We got into a bad habit of creating big bureaucracies, old methodologies to undermine regimes that were not friendly to the United States." As Clinton and Sanders looked on with mild disinterest at the candidate who had called them out as senior citizens fighting last century's war, O'Malley declared that the U.S. has "a role to play in this world, but we need to leave the Cold War and that sort of antiquated thinking behind." — Scott Bixby

7. Clinton disappeared from the stage for a few minutes.

After the first commercial break about an hour into the debate, the moderators cut back to the stage, but Clinton was nowhere to be found.

"We do believe Secretary Clinton will be coming around the corner any minute," Muir said, somewhat surreally, as the camera showed an empty lectern where Clinton should have been standing.

Muir began his question, and a few minutes later Clinton emerged from stage right.

"Sorry," she said, as she took her place on stage. — Stefan Becket

8. Clinton and Sanders sparred over support from Wall Street.

At this point, Clinton and Sanders' differences on the way that Wall Street's excesses should be managed are well-established, and the debate didn't break new ground in that realm. But one question from Muir laid bare how that difference factors into their broader vision of what kind of president they'd like to be.

"The last time you ran for president Fortune magazine put you on its cover with the headline 'Business Loves Hillary,' pointing out your support for many CEOs in corporate America. I'm curious, eight years later, should corporate America love Hillary Clinton?" asked Muir.

"Everybody should," Clinton said cheerfully, in a line that was met with laughter and applause. "Look, I have said, I want to be the president for the struggling, the striving, and the successful."

Clinton went on to explain how the wealthy should "pay their fair share," but her language on the economy was inclusive — build it "so it works for everybody."

Sanders by contrast, made it clear he didn't want everybody to be a friend.

"The CEOs of large multinationals may like Hillary. They ain't going to like me — and Wall Street is going to like me even less," he said. "And the reason for that is we've got to deal with the elephant in the room, which is the greed, recklessness, and illegal behavior on Wall Street." — Zeeshan Aleem

9. The candidates discussed how to get the cost of college under control.

Fielding a question from an audience member about the rising cost of college, Sanders, Clinton and O'Malley each outlined their plans for bringing higher education costs under control.

Sanders defended his proposal for free tuition for public colleges and universities, arguing his proposal would do the most to rein in costs and be paid for by raising taxes elsewhere.

"My proposal is to put a speculation tax on Wall Street and raise very substantial sums of money," Sanders said. "I would not only make public colleges and universities tuition-free but also substantially lower interest rates on student debt."

O'Malley argued that his proposal goes even further than Sanders in addressing the problem. 

"My plan actually goes further than Sen. Sanders because a big chunk of the cost is actually room and board and books and fees," O'Malley said. "So as a nation we need to increase what we invest in Pell Grants. Yes, we need to make it easier for parents to refinance, but states need to do more as well."

Clinton said she is opposed to "free tuition for everybody," arguing that middle- and working-class families need special support. Instead, Clinton said, she supports debt-free college — an important distinction between her and Sanders.

"I have proposed debt-free tuition, which I think is affordable," she said. "I would move a lot of the Pell Grant and other aid into the arena where it could be used for living expenses." — Stefan Becket

10. All three candidates vowed to fight the heroin epidemic.

One of the final questions in the debate centered around heroin addiction and the widespread opiate epidemic that has ravaged New Hampshire, New England and other parts of the country.

"This is a tragedy for New Hampshire. It is a tragedy for my state of Vermont. It is a tragedy all over this country," Sanders said. He re-emphasized his stance that "addiction is a disease, not a criminal activity."

Mic/Getty Images

Clinton noted that she had personally heard from many people in New Hampshire during the campaign who have pushed her to formulate a plan to address heroin addiction. She referenced her plan to spend $10 billion on countering the addiction epidemic.

"We need to do more on the prescribing end of it," Clinton said. "There are too many opioids being prescribed and that leads direct directly now to heroin addiction. We need to change the way we do law enforcement. We need more programs and facilities so when somebody's ready to get help there's a place for them to go."

O'Malley noted that the reaction to the epidemic differed from other public health emergencies, and vowed to invest in efforts to combat addiction.

"What would we do if this were Ebola?" he said. "How would we act? So many more Americans have been killed by the combination of heroin and these highly addictive pain pills, and yet we refuse to act. There are things that can be done." — Stefan Becket

11. People freaked out over a question about the candidates' spouses.

After two very long hours, the end appeared to be in sight when Martha Raddatz decided to dump some gasoline on Twitter and light it on fire.

"Secretary Clinton, first ladies, as you well know, have used their position to work on important causes like literacy and drug abuse," Raddatz said, tilting the gascan. "But they also supervise the menus, the flowers, the holiday ornaments and White House decor ... You have said that Bill Clinton is a great host and loves giving tours but may opt out of picking flower arrangements if you're elected. Bill Clinton aside, is it time to change the role of a president's spouse?"

"I am probably still going to pick the flowers and the China for state dinners and stuff like that," Clinton replied. The former first lady's social media team noticed the opportunity and ran with it:

12. There was not a single question about climate change

Debates are only a couple of hours long, so there's no way for moderators to cover every issue under the sun. But it was truly remarkable that during the second consecutive debate heavily focused on the theme of national security, there was not a single question asked about the dangers of climate change and how it will shape the horizons of long-term national security. 

The word "climate" was used only twice during the entire course of the debate — once during Sanders' opening remarks, and once during O'Malley's closing ones. Terrorism and gun control are important topics, but the fact that they were discussed at the exclusion of climate change — an issue that the Department of Defense has described as a preeminent threat to future global security — is depressing, maybe all the more because it was so predictable. — Zeeshan Aleem

13. Clinton's closing statement: "Thank you, good night and may the force be with you."

That is all. — Stefan Becket