By Gabriel Debenedetti
March 13, 2016
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are locked in a surprisingly tight battle for Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri heading into Sunday, but they barely went after each other at all on Sunday. Instead — unsurprisingly — Donald Trump was in the crosshairs.
“Donald Trump is responsible for what happens at his events,” said Clinton at a CNN/TV One town hall here at Ohio State University, referring to violence at the Republican front-runner’s recent rallies She sent a similar message at the Ohio Democratic Party’s Legacy Dinner down the road at Columbus’ convention center earlier in the evening.
Trump has been “not only inciting violence, but applauding violence,” Clinton added, revealing later in the evening that foreign leaders had contacted her asking whether they could endorse her in order to stop the billionaire real estate developer.
Sanders also spent the evening condemning Trump, again calling him a “pathological liar” to kick off the town hall, when presented with a clip of Trump suggesting protesters were Sanders supporters. “Donald Trump is literally inciting violence with his supporters. He’s saying if you go out and beat somebody up, I’ll pay the legal fees. That is an outrage."
Asked how he felt about Marco Rubio’s worry that someone could be killed at a Trump rally, the Vermont senator said, “Senator Rubio has a legitimate concern."
Yet the day also veered into a policy discussion as Clinton seeks to stave off another result like her shocking loss in Michigan last week. Sanders has carried his same Michigan-like focus on the former secretary of state’s previous support for multinational trade deals into Ohio, which he says has also been damaged by those deals.
One day after Clinton hardened her position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, she again suggested to voters that Sanders’ criticisms of her stances were unwarranted.
“I have proposed, for the first time ever, a trade prosecutor to report to the president, and more trade investigators,” she said at the town hall, shortly after telling the packed party dinner, “I will stop dead in my tracks any trade deal that hurts America, and American workers."
Noting that she voted against the CAFTA deal, she also pointed to her opposition to the TPP: “When it comes to the TPP, I did wait and see what was actually in it, and then I opposed it because I concluded I couldn’t look American workers in the eye and say, ‘this deal will raise your wages.’"
But, in the wake of a trade-oriented message that helped propel him to victory in Michigan, Sanders re-doubled his pressure on Clinton on the topic.
“One of the very strong differences between Secretary Clinton and myself, she has supported almost all of those trade agreements, I have opposed them,” said the underdog, who is hoping for surprise showing on Tuesday to keep the momentum of his White House bid going. “Tonight, on CNN, there are going to be major ads from all the major corporations, saying, ‘Buy this product, buy that product.’ Well, if they want us to buy those products, the time is overdue for them to manufacture the products in America, not in China."
Nonetheless, the most poignant moment of the night came on a topic that has hardly been at the center of the national debate, when a man wrongfully accused of murder spent 39 years in prison -- some of those on death row -- asked her about her support for the death penalty.
Clinton responded carefully, telling the man she supports it only for very specific cases within the federal system, and primarily in cases of mass killings, such as terrorism.
The evening's most surprising moment came earlier, when Sanders was asked to name the Republican with whom he gets along best. He has often declined to answer this question, insisting he would be hurting that person’s political career. But, pressed by moderator Jake Tapper, he gave an unexpected name: Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe.
Yes, Sanders acknowledged, Inhofe — who once famously brought a snowball to the Senate floor to make a point about climate change — denies that science, and yes, he is “really, really conservative." But they get along personally.
Still, the night frequently veered back to Trump, whom Clinton accused during the dinner of “running a cynical campaign of hate and fear for one reason: to get votes."
Just two days after Trump’s Chicago rally was shut down due to large protests, the front-runner urged: “If you want to shut him down, let’s vote him down."
Sanders couldn’t escape the topic of the Republican front-runner, even when he tried.
Asked by Tapper whether his trade policies were too restrictive, Sanders shot back: “Nobody is taking about building a wall around the United States.”
As members of the audience giggled, the inadvertent Trump reference appeared to dawn on him.
“Oh, wait,” he said. “There is one guy. Let me rephrase: Nobody rational is talking about building a wall."
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