COLUMBUS, Ohio — Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are running against each other. But they’re making their cases by using the same opponent: Donald Trump.
The Democratic presidential candidates didn’t pay much attention to each other on Sunday night during a town hall aired live on CNN. Instead, they laid into Trump, accusing him of creating a culture of violence on the campaign trail, and made their cases that they’d be the best Democrats to take on the GOP front-runner.
“I’m not going to spill the beans right now, but suffice it to say, there are many arguments we could use against him,” Clinton said.
Here are six takeaways from the Democratic town hall in Columbus:
‘Pathological liar’ and ‘political arson’
Clinton and Sanders were not about to mince words when it came to Trump, and pinned the blame for a string of violent incidents at his campaign events in recent days directly on the front-runner.
Sanders called Trump a “pathological liar.”
He cited a 78-year-old who now faces criminal charges after he sucker-punched a protester who was being escorted out of a Trump event in Fayetteville, North Carolina, last week — and Trump’s comments Sunday that he’s considering footing the man’s legal bills. “He’s going to pay the legal fees of somebody who committed a terrible act of violence. What that means is Donald Trump is literally inciting violence in his supporters,” Sanders said.
The two blasted Trump over a rally that was called off in Chicago on Friday night amid clashes between his supporters and protesters, saying that he’s creating an environment that makes such fights inevitable.
Clinton accused Trump of “political arson.”
“He has lit the fire and then he throws his hands up and claims that he shouldn’t be held responsible,” she said.
“He has been incredibly bigoted towards so many groups,” Clinton continued. “You don’t make America great by tearing down everything that made America great.”
Despite Trump’s efforts to blame Sanders’ supporters, who were among the protesters in Chicago, for the clashes there, Sanders noted that he, too, has brought millions of people into politics and said he can’t be blamed for everything someone who votes for him does.
And he used that question as an opportunity to remind voters of his own history as a protester.
“I never have and never will condone violence. People have the right to protest, that’s what America is about, I’ve been on picket lines my whole life, but that is very difference from being involved in violence,” he said.
Strategy against Trump
It’s not just that they’re angry about Trump’s rhetoric. Both Democrats also made the case that they’re the one best suited to run against him in November.
Amit Majmudar, a radiologist from Dublin, Ohio, and the state’s poet laureate, asked them for their strategies.
Clinton played up her tenure as secretary of state in arguing that Trump’s incendiary rhetoric undermines “our standing in the world.”
“I’m having foreign leaders ask if they can endorse me and stop Donald Trump,” she said.
She reminded the audience that so far in the primary process, she’s received more votes than anyone else — including Trump and Sanders.
And she said she’s the best bet to stand up to Trump in the general election because the Republicans who have “been after me for 25 years” have already thrown the entire book at her.
“In the course of dealing with all of this incoming fire from them, I have developed a pretty thick skin. I am not new to the national arena, and I think whoever goes up against Donald Trump better be ready,” Clinton said.
Sanders pointed to polls that show him leading Trump head-to-head nationally. And he said his ability to bring young people into the political process can counteract the GOP’s ability to “win when voter turnout is low.”
“The excitement and the energy for large voter turnouts is with the Sanders campaign,” he said.
The senator argued he’d “expose” Trump, citing the businessman’s opposition to a minimum wage increase and his leadership of “the so-called ‘birther’ movement.”
“The American public is not going to elect a president … insulting virtually everybody who is not like Donald Trump. Thank God most people are not like Donald Trump,” he said.
Clinton on the death penalty
The night’s most memorable moment came when Ricky Jackson, a man who spent 39 years in prison for a murder he hadn’t committed, pressed Clinton on her stance on the death penalty.
The auditorium was absolutely silent as Clinton spoke softly and deliberately, explaining that she considers capital punishment useful on the federal level only in extreme circumstances like terrorist attacks. She pointed to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing as an example.
“I would breathe a sigh of relief if either the courts or the states themselves began to eliminate the death penalty,” she said.
Then, Clinton turned to Jackson.
“What happened to you is a travesty and I can’t even imagine what you went through and how terrible those days and nights must have been for all those years,” she said.
“And I know that all of us are so regretful that you or any person has to go through what you did. And I hope that now that you are standing here before us that you will have whatever path in life you choose going forward.”
It’s moments like these that serve as a reminder of why this matters — a moment of intimacy in a frenetic and loud year.
Clinton and coal miners
In the middle of her comments about creating jobs in rural, predominantly white portions of the United States, Clinton uttered a line that Republicans will be more than happy to run again and again.
The clip that will make it into attack ads: “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”
The broader context is that Clinton introduced that comment by saying she is “the only candidate which has a policy about how to bring economic opportunity using clean, renewable energy as the key into coal country,” and that she has a plan to help those who stand to lose jobs.
“We’re going to make it clear that we don’t want to forget those people. Those people labored in those mines for generations, losing their health — often losing their lives — to turn on our lights and power our factories. Now we’ve got to move away from coal and all the other fossil fuels, but I don’t want to move away from the people who did the best they could to produce the energy which we relied on.”
But she’s already being hit for her comment that she’d eliminate coal industry jobs.
Republican Sen. Rand Paul, a former presidential candidate who represents coal-heavy Kentucky, tweeted that Clinton “brags about destroying coal country. Just when I thought she couldn’t be anymore unqualified…”
Sanders double-dips on trade
As he talked free trade, an issue that has been one of his most successful on the trail, Sanders hit two front-runners with one stone.
“Trade is a positive thing, nobody is talking about building a wall around the United States,” Sanders said, to some laughs from the audience. “I beg your pardon, there is one guy …. Let me rephrase it: No rational person is talking about it.”
He was, of course, referring to Trump, who advocates for a wall along the border with Mexico, but actually has a similar position against free trade to Sanders.
“Of course we’re going to do trade,” Sanders said. “But trade policies have got to be policies that work for the people of our country.”
Sanders has been highly critical of Clinton’s past support of free trade deals like NAFTA, which President Bill Clinton signed into law. Trade deals, he’s said, have hurt the middle class in the United States.
The issue showed a typical split: Sanders speaks in terms of values, while Clinton is far more comfortable with specifics.
On trade, she talked about lobbying the International Trade Commission for anti-dumping duties, and pitched creating the position of “trade prosecutor” empowered to challenge countries that sell their goods into the United States at unfairly low prices — rather than relying on private businesses to do it.
“I want the government to do it,” she said. “I want the United States government to stand up for steel.”
Friends and family
During a debate in Miami last week, Clinton said she is “not a natural politician” in the same vein as Presidents Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. Sunday, she explained the comment, saying that soaring rhetoric will never be her strong suit.
“I am much better when I actually have a job to do,” Clinton said, “rather than trying to get the job.”
Clinton also said she still gets worked up while watching both her husband Obama deliver speeches that, she said, are “just poetry.”
“I get carried away and I’ve seen it a million times,” Clinton said.
As for Sanders, it’d be easy to guess that he is close to his campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, who has worked with the Vermont senator in various capacities since he was 18 years old.
There’s not a snowball’s chance, though, that you’d have guessed another friend he named: Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe.
Asked to name a friend on the other side of the political spectrum, Sanders named Inhofe, with whom he serves on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Sanders prefaced his explanation of why he likes Inhofe by acknowledging that the Republican is “a climate change denier.”
“And he is really, really conservative,” he said. “But you know what, he is a decent guy, and I like him, and he and I are friends. And you find that — you find the fact that just because you have very significant political differences, doesn’t mean to say that you cannot develop friendships with good people.”