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Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders: Who Can Trump Trump?

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At last night’s Democratic presidential debate in Miami hosted by Univision, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders claimed they would be the best candidate to take on Republican front-runner Donald Trump in a general election. Well, the question of which Democratic candidate is best suited to challenge Trump is generating a lot of impassioned discussion and disagreement. We host a debate between Nathan Robinson of Current Affairs and professor Alan Draper of St. Lawrence University.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: At last night’s Democratic presidential debate in Miami hosted by Univision, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders claimed they would be the best candidate to take on Republican front-runner Donald Trump in a general election.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: I believe that our message of the need for people to stand up and tell corporate America and Wall Street that they cannot have it all is resonating across this country. And I think, in the coming weeks and months, we are going to continue to do extremely well, win a number of these primaries and convince superdelegates that Bernie Sanders is the strongest candidate to defeat Donald Trump.

HILLARY CLINTON: If I am so fortunate enough to be the Democratic nominee, there will be a lot of time to talk about him. I was the first one to call him out. I called him out when he was calling Mexicans rapists. When he was engaging in rhetoric that I found deeply offensive, I said, “Basta.” And I am pleased that others—others are also joining in making clear that his rhetoric, his demagoguery, his trafficking in prejudice and paranoia, has no place in our political system.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, the question of which Democratic candidate is best suited to challenge Republican front-runner Donald Trump is generating a lot of impassioned discussion and debate. So, who stands a better chance in the general elections—Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton? We’ll spend the rest of the hour talking about this.

In Boston, Massachusetts, we’re joined by Nathan Robinson, a doctoral student in sociology and social policy at Harvard University, editor-in-chief of Current Affairs, a new print magazine of political analysis. Robinson’s recent piece is called “Unless the Democrats Run Sanders, a Trump Nomination Means a Trump Presidency.”

And in Ottawa, Canada, we’re joined by Alan Draper, professor of government at St. Lawrence University. His recent article in MarketWatch is “A Vote for Bernie Sanders is a Vote for Donald Trump.”

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! And, Professor Draper, thanks for going from St. Lawrence University up to Ottawa for this discussion. Why do you feel Hillary Clinton is the best candidate to beat Trump?

ALAN DRAPER: Well, I think Hillary has certain positives for her. Number one is experience. Number two is that she, it seems to me—everything is on the table with her. We know so much about her. With regard to Bernie, that film that was shown in the debate last night, in terms of his apologies for Castro and authoritarianism, how many—do we know how many other films like that are out there? Do we know what kind of petitions Bernie has signed? That’s all going to come out. So, in terms of the unknowns that Bernie Sanders presents, I just think Hillary is a safer candidate at this point.

Secondly, it seems to me, this question of Bernie versus—versus Sanders, who’s a better candidate, is moot at this point. People talk about Bernie winning Michigan, but he lost the delegate count that evening.

AMY GOODMAN: Because he lost Mississippi.

ALAN DRAPER: The window—yes. The window is closing very rapidly. So, those are some of the things to consider.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Nathan Robinson, could you lay out the argument that you lay out in your piece, “Unless the Democrats Run Sanders, a Trump Nomination Means a Trump Presidency”?

NATHAN ROBINSON: Yeah. So, I respect absolutely the arguments for Hillary Clinton’s electability. The thing that I think is really important to consider and is not considered enough in these discussions is the fact that the Republican nominee is Donald Trump. Now, that changes everything. And the reason it changes everything is because of Trump’s unique campaigning style. Right? Trump traffics in the personal and the salacious and in gossip. And what that means is that all of Trump’s strengths play to all of Hillary Clinton’s unique weaknesses. And Trump has already shown this. If you see the way he talks about Hillary Clinton at his rallies versus the way he talks about Bernie Sanders, he goes after Hillary Clinton on Iraq. He goes after her on Libya, on the TPP, on NAFTA, on jobs. And so, all of these things make Trump a candidate that has a unique advantage over Clinton that he doesn’t have over Sanders, because Sanders speaks to the same kind of concerns that animate Trump’s base of support.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, it’s very interesting when you see a sort of uber-capitalist—not clear how many billions he has. He’s not releasing his tax returns and people are all speculating.


AMY GOODMAN: But the uber-capitalist versus the democratic socialist, Nathan Robinson?

NATHAN ROBINSON: Yeah. But the thing is that those two things seem a stark contrast at first, but I think what you see is that Trump and Sanders have different messages, but they’re targeting the same anxieties and the same audience. Right? So, whoever the Democratic nominee is in the fall can be assured that the Democratic base will support them, right? Because Trump has the support of the Klan, he’s, you know, called all Mexicans rapists, the Democratic base will be solid. What’s going to be difficult in the general election is winning over the working class, the so-called Reagan Democrats. And those are people that Trump has a message for. Trump has a message for people in Michigan who have lost their jobs. Trump has a message for people in rural Oklahoma. Those people come to his rallies. But those people also come to Bernie Sanders’s rallies. And Bernie Sanders has a message that resonates in those communities in a way that Hillary Clinton simply doesn’t, because of her record with Wall Street, because of her record with free trade. And so, I think what you see is that Hillary Clinton is not well positioned to capture the particular national mood at the moment, which is an antiestablishment mood. And if the Democrats run an establishment candidate in an antiestablishment election cycle, they are going to lose.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Professor Alan Draper, your response to what Nathan Robinson says?

ALAN DRAPER: Yes. This notion that the 2016 election is unusual for being an antiestablishment election just isn’t true. First of all, most of this agitation is almost completely on the Republican side. The primary turnout in Republican—in Republican primaries is very high. That’s not the case in the Democratic primaries, where in fact the turnout has been exceedingly low.

AMY GOODMAN: Actually, it’s higher than it was in the last—

ALAN DRAPER: We don’t see the kind of agitation—

AMY GOODMAN: It’s higher than it was in 2008. It’s both up for Republicans and Democrats, just higher for Republicans. And neither is very high: 17 percent for Republicans so far, according to Pew, and 11.7 or something percent for Democrats, higher.

ALAN DRAPER: Well, 2008, OK. Well, that was an exceptional election also, because you had two very good candidates running for—against each other.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, higher than 2012. 2008 was much higher.

ALAN DRAPER: OK, OK. With regard to the question of how Democrats feel the government is doing, again, most Americans—I think it was—I saw in Dana Milbank’s article something like 64 percent are not pleased with how the government is performing. But again, most of that is Republicans, when you drill down into those numbers. So, in terms of the Democratic base being upset with where the country is going, it just doesn’t resonate as much. And what we’re seeing as an antiestablishment election, this is how the media always presents most primary elections in order to build a horse race. You saw that in 2012 with the rise of Herman Cain, 2008 with regard to Obama, that it’s always presented as an antiestablishment election, that the electorate is angry. That seems to me so much more so on the Republican side than it is on the Democratic side.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Nathan Robinson, your response, very quickly, before we conclude?

NATHAN ROBINSON: Well, as you can see, the statistic that Professor Draper cited proves him wrong, because everyone is upset. It doesn’t matter that it’s Republicans, because everyone votes in the general election. Right? So what you need is, in a general election—

AMY GOODMAN: Well, half of Americans do.

NATHAN ROBINSON: —you have to appeal to those people. That’s—that’s who you need to appeal to in order to win. And those people, Bernie Sanders can appeal to. But Hillary Clinton, who Professor Draper, in his article, calls the candidate of “moral ambiguity”—you can’t, on a platform of moral ambiguity, get people to turn out to the polls. If turnout is low, you need to inspire people. Bernie Sanders inspires people. Hillary Clinton hemorrhages support all the time. Donald Trump builds support. Bernie Sanders builds support as [people get] to know him. As people get to know Hillary Clinton, they trust her less and less.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there, Nathan Robinson and Alan Draper. Thanks so much for joining us, and to Alan Draper especially for going to Canada for this interview. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Thanks so much.

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Michael Moore: How I Moved from Supporting Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton for President

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