Collins, solo

In “Hillary and Bernie, Punching” Ms. Collins says the Democrats may have strayed off the high road, but they’re a long way from Trump-Cruz territory.  Here she is:

There’s a Democratic debate Sunday night! The party honchos scheduled it in the middle of a three-day weekend, obviously in a bid to ensure maximum attention. The American public, perky from eight straight hours of football playoffs, will totally be in the mood for a serious policy dialogue.

So far, the Democratic encounters have been mildly informative but not riveting. We don’t wait expectantly for Bernie Sanders to snap, “You already had your chance, Hillary, and you blew it,” the way Chris Christie did to Marco Rubio in the Republican debate Thursday. But tensions are mounting.

Clinton and Sanders had generally been taking the high road. This is in part because they have a basic level of respect for each other. (It’s very likely that they respect Martin O’Malley, too, although no one’s keeping track.)

Also, there was a widespread feeling that the outcome was preordained. You cannot believe how gracious that can make people.

Now, it seems possible Sanders could stage an upset in Iowa and New Hampshire. Can you imagine what a Groundhog Day nightmare this is for Clinton? The uber-qualified woman who believes she knows how to make the real world better, stuck with another opponent promising transformational change. True, this one is a 74-year-old white guy. But still.

Until recently, Clinton attacked just the Republicans, while occasionally pointing out that Sanders has a very weak history when it comes to gun control. But as the polls got more and more scary, things escalated. This week she connected him — legislatively — to the Charleston church shooting and then suggested that his health care plan might endanger Medicare.

Not taking this lying down, Sanders … made a negative ad.

I know, this doesn’t sound heart-stopping. There’s a Ted Cruz ad suggesting that while ISIS prepares to destroy America, Marco Rubio plays fantasy football. Sanders’s ad doesn’t even mention Clinton by name.

Still, Hillary for America officials called a news conference to discuss the “Sanders Attack Ad.” They pointed out the many, many times Sanders had said he’d never go there. They quoted a campaign strategist boasting that Bernie ”rejects the status quo of politics. … If we do a classic comparative ad, it’s over.”

This is one of the problems with being Bernie Sanders. His whole point is to be outside the political norm. He’s the principled maverick whose most famous moment in the Senate was his eight-and-a-half-hour speech against the compromises President Obama made in 2010 to get a tax deal. We expect him to stick to his standards, even if they’re somewhat irrational.

Hillary is the former first lady who survived her husband’s impeachment, became a senator, then lost a presidential bid and then became secretary of state. We expect more in the way of can-do and less in the way of elevated campaign tactics from her.

As negative ads go, Sanders’s is not exactly a body blow. Maybe a little soft poke. With one finger. While wearing mittens. “There are two Democratic visions for regulating Wall Street,” he tells the camera. “One says it’s O.K. to take millions from big banks and then tell them what to do.”

That’s the attack part. Do you think Sanders is saying it’s unfair to take money from big banks and then regulate the heck out of them? Or that you shouldn’t take their money in the first place? Probably the latter, but it’s not exactly an attention-grabber when Republicans are running spots calling each other a “bully” or a “jerk.” (Both of those were aimed at Donald Trump, and I believe I speak for much of the nation when I say, “Why not?”)

Sanders has been stressing his war on Wall Street, but now Clinton is lacing out at his health care plan, which is basically universal Medicare. The details are vague. Although he has cheerfully explained how he wants to pay for free public college tuition (tax Wall Street speculators) and expand Social Security (stop capping the payroll tax), Sanders is mum on who’ll pick up the health care bill. A staff member says they’re still tinkering “with the details.”

Clinton’s response, however, seemed wildly overblown. One of the first shots came from — of all people — Chelsea, who claimed that “Senator Sanders wants to dismantle Obamacare, dismantle the CHIP program, dismantle Medicare, and dismantle private insurance.”

Sanders wants to keep all those services in a different program. Except the private insurance. He does want that to go, and Clinton doesn’t. An excellent topic for a discussion. Hillary, explain what’s so great about health insurance companies. Bernie, tell us how you’d get your grand plan through Congress.

They ought to be perfect debate partners. She has about as much detailed knowledge of the way American government works as anybody breathing. He has great dreams and the confidence that everything is possible. But it’s harder for Clinton, who has to argue that everything’s not.

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