Maddow started with Martin O’Malley, and it was immediately noticeable that she intended to let these candidates talk. O’Malley was asked about why Democrats are not being successful in the South; he didn’t answer, so Maddow asked him the question again. O’Malley offered up his notion that Democrats need to talk about their ideas, framing, and sticking to their message.
The discussion moved to Obama’s rejection of Keystone. O’Malley tried to ding Clinton for being late to opposing Keystone XL. Maddow reminded O’Malley that the polling supported Keystone. Maddow asked O’Malley if his progressive agenda went too fast too far. O’Malley dodged the question about his legacy, so Maddow asked again what it says if O’Malley left the state more Republican after his term ended. O’Malley spun the question to a discussion of his legacy and his accomplishments in Maryland.
Maddow did a little lightning round, but her questions were smart and revealing, not the “gotcha” questions that Republicans complain about so often. A viewer question was asked if the draft should come back and war tax imposed. O’Malley disagreed with the draft but supported a war tax and then launched into how Bush falsely led the country into war in Iraq and did not pay for it. Rachel Maddow asked about his viability and O’Malley gave the stock answer about how he has come back from deficits in the polls with less time to campaign. O’Malley took several shots at Bernie Sanders and painted him as not a real Democrat.
During the Bernie Sanders segment, Maddow pressed Sanders on gun control and how his campaign can connect with African-American voters in South Carolina. Rachel Maddow asked about the challenges that his campaign is facing and that African-American voters in South Carolina don’t know him well enough. Sanders said he believes that he can convince African-American voters that he is their candidate, because of his civil rights record. He said, “I think I have the economic and social justice agenda now that once we get the word out will resonate with the African-American community.”
Sanders was asked what his dream job would be if he weren’t a politician; he said he would be president of CNN because the way the media talks about politics would immediately change.
During the Hillary Clinton segment, Rachel Maddow asked Clinton what she would say to African-American voters who are wondering if their opportunity for meaningful change had passed. Clinton discussed her record and said that President Obama doesn’t get the credit for the great job that he has done. Clinton said that wanted to build on Obama’s success and go further. Hillary Clinton said, “I want to be the president for the struggling, the striving, and the successful.”
Maddow asked Clinton about her support for the death penalty and asked her if she would be disappointed if the Supreme Court struck down the death penalty. Clinton said no, and that she thinks states should take a hard look at the death penalty and that many states have gone too far. She said she has questions about removing the federal death penalty for terrorists and that there are some really heinous crimes that should still potentially have the death penalty.
Rachel Maddow’s questions were intelligent, well researched, and went deeper than anything asked during the presidential debates. Maddow didn’t let the Democratic candidates rely on their talking points and stump speeches, and the result was the best 90+ minutes of the televised portion of the early presidential campaign.
The great irony is that Maddow delivered the very kind of forum that the Republican candidates are claiming that they want out of the debates, but all of the Republican pretender candidates are afraid to be interviewed by Maddow.
The South Carolina Democratic forum wasn’t a debate, but it was better than all of the Republican 'debates' combined, and much of credit for the success of the event should go to Rachel Maddow and her staff.