The Dilemma Facing Democratic Voters

Brian Snyder / Reuters
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

One more Saturday night, and the band was together, liveblogging the third Democratic debate in New Hampshire. Here’s my instant analysis. Spoiler alert: No gamechanging moment, but Clinton made an embarrassing Star Wars dad joke.

To understand the state of the Democratic presidential race, look no further than an exchange midway through Saturday night’s debate about American policy in Syria.

The differences between Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley are fairly simple. Clinton wants to create a no-fly zone in Syria, and she believes that it’s important to keep working to remove President Bashar al-Assad from power. Sanders thinks the focus on regime change is misguided, and contends that Middle Eastern countries ought to be leading the fight against ISIS on the ground. O’Malley, too, is wary of regime change and foreign involvement. But as the conversation progressed, Clinton simply ran circles around her opponents, offering far more detail and demonstrating how much more she knows about foreign policy—both in general and in the specific case of Syria.

Thus the major dilemma for Democratic voters in 2016: Do they support Sanders, a guy whose positions are in line with the party’s mainstream, but who obviously has a fairly superficial, ideologically rigid engagement with foreign policy? Or do they support Clinton, who has a more powerful, detailed, and nuanced command of the issues than any other candidate, but is also far more hawkish than most Democrats?

Read the whole thing, and our entire liveblog, over here.