Political adviser argues Clinton, Sanders won at Democratic debate

Forrest Milburn

Political commentator Paul Begala declared both former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) winners of the first Democratic presidential debate at a conversation Thursday morning.

Begala, a senior adviser to Priorities USA, the main political action committee supporting the Clinton campaign, said during an interview with Texas Tribune Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith that Clinton displayed a presidential demeanor at the Democractic debate. 

“[Clinton] just showed a calm and a confidence that you want in your president, and she took command of that stage,” Begala said. “She was in charge, she was the only president on that stage, and it showed.”

At the debate, Clinton faced Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders as her strongest competitor, according to recent polls, alongside three other Democrats. While Begala thought Clinton was a clear winner Tuesday night, he agreed that Sanders also won because he was able to spread his message to a televised audience.

“I thought he had a terrific night,” Begala said. “Bernie is drawing tens of thousands of people with his populist economic message, but there were 15.3 million people watching that debate, most of whom haven’t heard of him.”

Taral Patel, Student Government chief of staff, said he agreed with Begala’s argument that both candidates won and said students should pay attention to the presidential election and continue to vote at higher rates.

“I think both candidates won because, if you compare it to the other debates that have already happened this campaign season, you’re able to see a room full of grownups discussing issues without attacking each other or using inflammatory rhetoric to piss off various groups,” Patel said.

Begala said a paradox exists in student voter turnout because young people have the most to gain or lose from an election, yet they vote less frequently than their elder counterparts.

“[They should care] because their asses are on the line, seriously,” Begala said. “They’re not going to send me to fight and die in war, they’re not going to jack up my interest rates on a student loan, I don’t have one.”

Begala said he is currently betting on Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to win the Republican nomination for president because the party has shown it wants an outsider rather than a member of the establishment.

“The Republican Party has always been establishment, corporate, hierarchical, and now it’s not — now it’s Burning Man without the nudity,” Begala said. “It’s like it’s every Republican’s dream now to climb on a plane and hear the pilot say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve never done this before, I don’t know what all of these buttons do, but what the hell.’”

Lorena Reyna, an Austin resident working in marketing and a fan of Sanders, said she agreed with Begala that conservatives are itching for a candidate of their choice to win the nomination, although she said she doubts Cruz could become a coalition builder and swing purple states to the Republican column.

“The Republicans have nominated a kind of squishy conservative these last two cycles and that hasn’t really panned out that well,” Reyna said. “Maybe the American people would like to see someone who’s more principled on both sides.”