Hillary Clinton won Tuesday night’s first Democratic Presidential Debate staged in Las Vegas by a mile over a less than impressive group of candidates. By any metric that you chose to score a debate Clinton crushed the field.
For his part, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders displayed the same rhetorical flair he’s shown all campaign. As usual, he identified several real challenges the country faces, passionately condemning income inequality, a “corrupt” campaign finance system, the continuing human contribution to climate change, and overcrowded prisons, among other things.
As usual, he did a poor job explaining why his sledgehammer “democratic socialism” is a smart or realistic response. He did a very poor job of laying out details of both the realism in policymaking and he totally botched his checkered record on gun control.
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley tried to run on his record implementing progressive policies such as same-sex marriage, gun regulations, and a higher minimum wage in Maryland. He separated himself from Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee by not seeming totally out of place, but he had neither Sanders’ passion nor Clinton’s authority. His inert style didn’t serve him well on an evening in which he needed a breakthrough performance.
Meanwhile, Webb complained incessantly about not getting enough time to speak. When he did speak he was both boring and lacked substance. As for Sen. Chafee who claimed that he was “a block of granite,” which is not true: A block of granite would have been more interesting to watch.Clinton broke no new ground on her Wall Street position sticking to her argument that breaking up the big banks is not the answer and that regulators should look to the shadow banking system. Ardent financial reformers hate this answer (and note that all the big banks were deeply involved in the mortgage crisis and closely tied to AIG) but there is really no reason for Clinton to go away from it. She is not going to lose the nomination to any of the men on stage last night.
Sanders (I-Vermont), the liberal insurgent who has gained on Clinton in early-state polls, declared that the American people were “sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails!” It was the top social moment of the debate, according to Facebook.
It was the key moment of the debate and served to neutralized the Democratic frontrunner’s biggest weakness during the two-hour long CNN debate.
That line helped Sanders, too, and his campaign seemed to agree as he was able to fundraised almost immediately off the comments. Two other moments defined Clinton’s debate performance: First, when she took Sanders to task for his support of a controversial gun measure that has garnered him criticism from Democrats on the campaign trail. She was asked, point blank, by CNN moderator Anderson Cooper if she thought Sanders had gone far enough to stave off a rash of gun violence. She said he hadn’t.
And Clinton was the only Democratic candidate to mention the controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood, which earned her another big applause line.
There is no doubt: Tuesday was Clinton’s night.
She surpassed that expectation, and so the evening was lively. It made politics, temporarily, feel like something done by people who read actual books instead of talking points. Clinton showed competence that made the idea of Joe Biden entering the race seem unnecessary.