Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders Campaign Refuses to Focus on Foreign Policy at Tonight's CBS Debate

Running for president but needs more time to prepare for breaking news changes.

| + Facebook filter

The Democratic presidential candidates (now just three of them: Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O'Malley) will meet tonight for the second out of six scheduled debates this election cycle. The Republicans plan to have more than two dozen, but the Democrats will be limited to six largely by presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton's refusal to agree to more.

If the goal was to make it harder for voters to hear the candidates engage with each other, scheduling the second one for a Saturday night was a big victory.

Now the Sanders campaign appears to have contributed to driving down the viewer numbers even more. They reportedly objected this morning to an attempt by CBS to focus tonight's debate more specifically on foreign policy, terrorism, and national security, because of news items highly relevant to that topic.

Yahoo! News reports:

A top aide to Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., one of the three candidates, got into a lengthy dispute with executives from CBS, the network hosting the debate, during a conference call on Saturday morning. A staffer for one of the other campaigns who was also on the call described the exchange to Yahoo News as "heated" and even "bizarre," and a second source on the call confirmed the nature of the exchange… 

According to the rival staffer, Sanders strategist Mark Longabaugh lit into CBS vice president and Washington bureau chief Christopher Isham when the changes to the debate were detailed on the call. 

"It was a little bit of a bizarre scene. The Sanders representative, you know, really laid into CBS and basically … kind of threw, like, a little bit of a fit and said, 'You are trying to turn this into a foreign policy debate. That's not what any of us agreed to. How can you change the terms of the debate, you know, on the day of the debate. That's not right,'" the staffer recounted. 

Another person who was on the call confirmed to Yahoo News that Longabaugh had a lengthy dispute about the changed plans for the debate format during the call with CBS. The Sanders campaign declined to comment. 

A few weeks ago, President Obama mocked the Republican presidential candidates for complaining about the moderators at a CNBC debate. The president asked how the candidates would handle Russian President Vladimir Putin if they couldn't handle CNBC moderators. It was a dumb quip because it was packed with assumptions—mainly that the U.S. president needs to "handle" the Russian president and that Obama was doing so.

Republicans' reaction to the moderators was… debatable (sorry not sorry). Certainly it has fairly little to do with how Republicans would perform on foreign policy (generally: poorly). But Sanders' apparent refusal to spend more time discussing foreign policy tonight when that's what's in the forefront, however briefly, of the American political conversation should disqualify him as a "serious candidate" (not just because it betrays a poor grasp on current events and the policies related to them but because it hands Hillary Clinton, the only person on stage tonight responsible in any way for, for example, ISIS being in Libya, a bit of a free pass) But Sanders is a right-thinking person with right-thought positions involving giving Americans more free stuff, so the self-described "serious" people in our national discourse won't ridicule him for his ridiculous decision today to stick to the script no matter what.

UPDATE: It took Bernie Sanders just 13 minutes to make the important point that the Iraq war, which Hillary Clinton supported, has "unraveled the region." Clinton responded by admitting the Iraq war was a mistake. There was no follow-up about whether the Obama administration's intervention in Libya, which helped unravel that country and introduce it to ISIS, was also a mistake.