At the conclusion of last night’s Democratic debate, liberal Bill Scher declared the winner to be “debate prep.” He may be right. The strong consensus is that Hillary Clinton won the debate, and I found the most remarkable thing about her performance to be how deftly she handled the (admittedly predictable) questions about her record.
It is worth noting, of course, that most of her answers were actually examples of sophistry; she didn’t so much answer charges as she did misdirect them. Regardless of the fact that she employed trickery, though, it worked. Ron Fournier has a terrific column on this, calling Clinton’s performance “dishonest as it was impressive,” but here’s an abbreviated explainer of how she conveniently framed things last night…
So what, Clinton argued, if she voted for the biggest foreign policy blunder in American history (Bernie Sanders’ description of the Iraq war). Barack Obama went on to make her his secretary of state. And if he trusted her judgment after that vote, then why shouldn’t we? (Clinton is using Obama as a shield, much in the same way Bill Clinton used Hillary after the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The implication being: If she can forgive him, so should we.)
Likewise, Martin O’Malley’s opinion doesn’t matter — since he endorsed Clinton in 2008. (This serves to discredit O’Malley and make him look like an opportunistic hypocrite — but what does it have to do with Hillary Clinton’s vote on Iraq?)
Clinton’s biggest dodge of the night — questions about her using a private email address and a private server — came with an assist: Bernie Sanders unilaterally declared that nobody cares about the emails. Scandal over?
There’s no doubt she’s a pro. As one smart Republican observer emailed me: “She is in a league of her own on that stage. I worry about the debates if she is the Dem nominee.”
But while Clinton’s strong performance against Bernie Sanders (and the rest) is the big story today, the most significant development might be what doesn’t happen next. Clinton killed two birds with one stone when she shrewdly adopted the mantle of Barack Obama’s successor. As Marc Ambinder noted, “The first Democratic presidential debate had one casualty: a plausible reason why Vice President Joe Biden should enter the race.”