So much for those data-themed fireworks.
Heading into Saturday night’s Democratic debate, the Beltway consensus (fueled by advisers to the campaigns) was that the fight between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton was finally going to get personal. Bernie, the thinking went, would use his current spat with the Democratic National Committee to suggest that the establishment had rigged the primary in Hillary’s favor. Clinton, in turn, would then hit back by questioning the integrity of Sanders’ campaign, which had to fire one of its staffers on Friday after he was caught looking at Clinton voter data he shouldn’t have. (According to the Sanders campaign, the staffer “irresponsibly accessed data from another campaign”; according to the Clinton campaign, the “data was stolen.")
The suspense, though, didn’t last past the first round of questions. Asked by ABC moderator David Muir whether the Clinton campaign was overstating things, Sanders gave a somewhat lengthy rundown of his version of events—with a few soft if not exactly subtle jabs at the DNC tossed in—but made it clear his campaign messed up. “In this case,” he said, “our staff did the wrong thing.” Muir followed up by asking Sanders whether Clinton deserved an apology. Bernie didn’t hesitate. “Yes, I apologize,” he said, continuing:
Not only do I apologize to Secretary Clinton, and I hope we can work together on an independent investigation from Day One. I want to apologize to my supporters. This is not the type of campaign that we run. And if I find anybody else involved in this, they will also be fired.
Smartly, Clinton didn’t look a status-quo-preserving gift horse in the mouth. Asked whether she accepted the apology, she said that she did and then executed a play out of Bernie’s let’s-talk-about-the-real-issues playbook. “And so now that I think, you know, we've resolved your data, we've agreed on an independent inquiry, we should move on because I don't think the American people are all that interested in this,” Clinton said. “I think they're more interested in what we have to say about all the big issues facing us.”
In short: Bernie apologized, and Hillary accepted. Then Martin O’Malley chimed in, apparently unaware of what had just happened on the same stage he was standing on:
David, for crying out loud, our country has been attacked. We have pressing issues involving how we're going to adapt to this changing era of warfare. Our economy, people are working harder and being left behind. You want to know why things don't get done in Washington? Because for the last 24 hours with those issues being so urgent to people as they tune in tonight, wondering how they're going to even be able to buy presents for their kids, instead we're listening to the bickering back and forth. Maybe that's normal politics in Washington. But that is not the politics of higher purpose that people expect from our party.