Tuesday, March 20 , 2018, 3:19 am | Fair 51º


Susan Estrich: The Alarming Worlds of Ben and Bernie

In the wake of the horrors in Paris, it only made sense to change the focus of Saturday night's Democratic debate from economic issues to national security, as CBS News did.

You might think the candidates would jump at the opportunity to have a large audience hear them address the frightening specter of ISIS

"It could have happened here," one after another of the counter-terrorism experts warned, which is another way of saying that Americans may be looking more carefully at their choices for the next president, understanding that he or she will be making decisions that determine our safety.

Normally, I laugh when I hear about a Saturday debate; it reminds me of the time that the one gubernatorial debate in my home state of Massachusetts was right up against the Red Sox in the World Series.

Every member of the crew was watching the game as they moved the cameras around. I don't think anyone watched it that wasn't paid to.

This past Saturday was different, because the world was shaken to its core, and people were hungrier for news than they usually are on Saturday nights. In short, this was an opportunity.

But not for Bernie Sanders. He didn't want to talk about national security. His people reportedly objected to the change in topics, asking to stick to the original economic talking points, but they got turned down. 

In his opening statement, Sen. Sanders went ahead and did it himself. He said two sentences about the only topic people were interested in on Saturday — the Paris massacres.

Then he immediately changed the subject and began talking (or haranguing, as he would surely call it if Hillary Clinton were doing it) about income inequality. 

If you've got nothing to say about the horror visited upon Paris by the same organization that has threatened to attack America, you shouldn't be commander in chief.

Sanders supporters tell me that he has kept Clinton "honest," equating honesty with a liberal, anti-free-trade agenda.

If you really don't like Hillary Clinton then support Martin O'Malley, who was a terrific mayor of Baltimore and governor of Maryland and would be taken seriously were he running against someone other than Clinton. 

Other than inspiring one of the greatest impersonations on Saturday Night Live (i.e., Larry David as Sen. Sanders), I don't understand where the continued support for Sanders is coming from. If I had to predict, I'd say he's peaked. 

On the other side of the aisle, you have Dr. Ben Carson

In what must be one of the frankest interviews ever given on the record by a candidate's advisers before the election, Carson's team has told The New York Times in excruciating detail how difficult it is to teach the former neurosurgeon anything about national security.

"Nobody has been able to sit down with him and have him get one iota of intelligent information about the Middle East."

That isn't some disgruntled former aide talking; it's Duane R. Clarridge, Carson's top adviser on terrorism and national security.

Clarridge is a longtime CIA officer who, having been pardoned for his alleged role in the Iran-Contra scandal, now runs a network of private intelligence operatives who have been briefing Carson over Skype.

Plainly, it isn't working. 

In the last week, Carson has mistakenly put the Chinese in Syria and — with shades of Rick Perry, who couldn't name three federal agencies he wanted to eliminate — could not name the countries he would call to form a coalition against ISIS.

Armstrong Williams, his top adviser and close friend, told The New York Times, "He's been briefed on it so many times. I guess he just froze."

Freezing is not an option for a commander in chief. 

Susan Estrich is a best-selling author, the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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