A confident, smiling and laughing Hillary Clinton delivered a top-notch performance at last night’s Democratic debate. The optics were great for her, which she had no doubt anticipated as her only real opponent — Bernie Sanders — stood next to her scowling and looking old and angry as he repeatedly denounced Wall Street. Bernie’s routine might work wonders for him on the campaign trail, but on TV, not so much.
Hillary Clinton outmaneuvered the senator from Vermont, who refused to attack her where she was vulnerable. When Anderson Cooper asked her about her private e-mail server, Clinton again admitted she make a mistake, but said: “What I did was allowed by the State Department.” Just who allowed it she never did say. Hillary is masterfully using tools from her old kit: just as the vast right-wing conspiracy was out to get her and her husband so many years ago, the hullabaloo over her emails is only about Republicans trying to destroy her. To cheers, she said: “I’m still standing.”
Then Sanders piped up:
I think the secretary is right. The American people are sick and tired of hearing about e-mails.
Anderson Cooper replied:
Secretary Clinton, Secretary Clinton, with all due respect, it’s a little hard — I mean, isn’t it a little bit hard to call this just a partisan issue? There’s an FBI investigation, and President Obama himself just two days ago said this is a legitimate issue.
None of the other candidates dared take up the opening he had given them, which would have raised the question of Hillary’s credibility, trustworthiness, and vulnerability on the question of the e-mails and on so many other things.
Instead of returning Sanders’ favor, Hillary went after him for consistently voting against gun control, including voting five different times against the Brady Bill, which required a federal background check and a five-day waiting period until one can purchase a gun.
Clinton also got Sanders on his claim to be for democratic socialism. Someone forgot to inform Bernie that even in 2015, when asked, Americans overwhelmingly choose capitalism over socialism. Hillary knows it, and said she would take the steps to once again save the capitalist system from itself.
In making that statement, she portrayed herself as an FDR for the 21st century, proclaiming that she is “a progressive who likes to get things done.”
When Sanders pointed to both Denmark and Sweden as examples of nations that the United States should seek to emulate, Clinton countered:
But we are not Denmark. I love Denmark. We are the United States of America. And it’s our job to rein in the excesses of capitalism so that it doesn’t run amok and doesn’t cause the kind of inequities we’re seeing in our economic system.
What she did was a master stroke: she eschewed socialism as a model while saying she would solve the problem of economic inequality she believes is rightfully raised by Sanders, but which he did not have any realistic answers about how to deal with.
Jim Webb, however, had the best retort to Saunders.
Bernie, I don’t think the revolution’s going to come. and I don’t think Congress is going to pay for a lot of this stuff.
It would be a mistake for Clinton to think that her email problems are over. As columnist Ron Fournier said in the National Journal:
It’s not going to go away — not with the FBI investigating whether confidential information was mishandled under Clinton’s system, and not with independent voters losing faith in Clinton’s word.
As Fournier notes, voters might agree with all of Hillary’s political views, but:
Her character is the issue that threatens to consume all others.
Fournier cited the remarkable column in Politico that appeared the day of the debate by Glenn Thrush and Annie Karnie. Her own campaign, the two journalists reported, revealed:
For months and months the emails distracted and diverted a Clinton team that seemed powerless to move beyond the unfolding scandal … [her arguments] rekindled longstanding concerns about her judgment.
The two interviewed 50 of Hillary’s donors, advisers, operatives, and friends and found:
[They] thought Clinton was a mediocre candidate who would make a good president, if given the chance. They painted a portrait of a politician who talked about learning from past mistakes while methodically repeating them.
Indeed, New Yorker columnist Ryan Lizza reprinted and commented on a 2007 memo written by Obama aides, who — when it looked like Obama might not win the nomination — jumped on the issue of character to undermine Hillary. His aides wrote:
The only way for Obama to win this argument about change was for him to raise the character issue, which he had tiptoed around until that point in the campaign.
Moreover, Obama’s aides blasted Clinton for being:
… driven by political calculation not conviction, regularly backing away and shifting positions on issues ranging from war, to Social Security, to trade, to reform.
They also noted that her main tactic was to attack Republicans:
[Clinton is] consumed with beating them rather than unifying the country and building consensus to get things done.
Obama’s aides also noted:
[Clinton was] driven by politics, not conviction … from the war, to NAFTA, to Social Security, to her choice of baseball teams, Clinton is constantly shifting, dodging, and changing positions to satisfy the politics of the moment.
Her opponents could have pointed out that she is still doing the same thing, and had lied during the debate about her sudden decision to oppose the free-trade Trans-Pacific Partnership. In office, she was the cheerleader for TPP, and indeed had said it was the “gold standard,” and not, as she claimed in the debate, that she only “hoped it would be the gold standard.”
Anderson Cooper was accurate when he used her switch to note that she had supported Obama’s trade deal “dozens of times,” yet “now, suddenly, last week, you’re against it.”
With the right candidate, the Republicans could easily use the same strategy Obama did and get the same results Obama attained in 2008. No wonder, Lizza reports, that the first person she brought into her team for this campaign was … the Obama aide who wrote the 2007 memo.
Because Hillary won the Democratic debate hands down, it is most likely certain that Joe Biden will not put in a bid to enter the primaries and seek the nomination.
I’m fairly confident that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee despite all of her incredible baggage. Unless Republicans get their act together and nominate the most electable conservative candidate — rather than the most “pure” — we will be seeing Hillary’s smile and hearing her laugh from the Oval Office for the next eight years.