NY-22 Minute: Analysis of the Second Debate By Luke Perry
Claudia Tenney has long campaigned as a conservative populist, first as part of the Tea Party Movement, then as a supporter of President Trump. Tenney contends she is on the side of the people in a fight against big government and political elites.
Anthony Brindisi has campaigned for Congress as a liberal populist. Brindisi contends he is on the side of the people in a fight against big business and corporate elites.
On Thursday, Tenney took the stage at Colgate University, which she described as a “left wing crazy school,” for a debate aired by Spectrum News, about whom, Brindisi has said if you are watching Spectrum, “you’re getting ripped off.”
This remarkable moment illuminated the limits of populism two years into the Trump presidency as bold rhetoric across the political spectrum collided with campaign realities. (Full debate avaiable here.)
Several of the debate’s topics, and related perspectives, echoed the first NY-22 forum in Rome, including the economy, tax policy, and immigration. The dynamics of this debate were different as the panel, led by Liz Benjamin, host of Capital Tonight, asked follow up questions, attempting to establish clear responses.
For example, Benjamin pressed Brindisi on his position toward universal healthcare. Brindisi voted for the New York Health Act, but doesn’t currently support single payer at the national level, instead preferring to fix The Affordable Care Act (ACA). When asked why, Brindisi said what is right for New York, may not be right for the rest of the country, creating potential tension with his stance on the issue.
Brindisi has long advocated protecting the ACA, including during the first NY-22 forum, when he stated healthcare is a right. If healthcare is a right, presumably all Americans are entitled to this right, not just those who happen to live under state governments that recognize it.
There was more discussion of foreign policy in this debate, which provided some points of agreement. For instance, both candidates supported sanctions against Saudi Arabia in response to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Both also would vote “yes” to the renegotiated NAFTA treaty and expressed mixed reviews for President Trump’s pursuit of negotiations with North Korea.
Panelist Nina Moore, Chair of Government at Colgate University, pressed Claudia Tenney on her view toward Russian meddling in U.S. elections. Tenney initially contended everyone agrees that Russia meddled but “interfered in a minor way, we can’t prove how much they’ve done.” Tenney emphasized that indicted Russians are unlikely to be prosecuted and suggested China poses a greater threat because they have more power, people, and money.
When asked to clarify, Tenney explained that Russia unequivocally meddled, but believes this is separate from the unfounded assertion that President Trump colluded with Russia in pursing the presidency.
Brindisi was “very worried” about Russian meddling, believed Russia should be held accountable, including through sanctions, and provided some related policy suggestions, including nationalizing New York state requirements that sources of on-line advertisements be disclosed.
A debate that began with a question about recent domestic bomb scares and dangerous political rhetoric saw both candidates (who condemned this behavior) spend the next hour attacking, interrupting, and speaking over one another, at times making it nearly impossible for the moderator to reestablish order.
Tenney repeatedly sought to portray Brindisi as someone he claims not to be- a Nancy Pelosi supporter who wants to impeach Donald Trump. Brindisi has stated he will not support Pelosi for Speaker, nor vote to impeach President Trump. This messaging, common in recent months, appears unhelpful with Republicans (just 65 percent of whom support Tenney) and independents (54 percent of whom support Brindisi) per recent polling.
Brindisi has matched Tenney blow-for-blow, relentlessly defending himself, as he sees it, from her attacks. Brindisi’s supporters contend this is necessary to prevent Tenney from defining him; however, not all of Brindisi’s attacks have been retaliatory. Going negative may trigger partisan cues, prompting Republicans to unify around Tenney, and/or turn off independents, who do not care for this tactic as much as partisans.
As a whole, the debate enabled both candidates to display knowledge of issues and provided some clarity and depth regarding their positions. With a larger, prime-time television audience, the debate was more watched, and likely more impactful than the first forum. The final debate will be November 1st in Binghamton.
Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry) is Chair and Professor of Government at Utica College.
Read the NY-22 Minute for timely and comprehensive analysis of the campaign.