A late comment on the Dem debate.
Let's start with the
dynamics of the race. Hillary came in as the overwhelming fave to win
this. Even Bernie's summer momentum hasn't amounted to a real challenge.
He's leading in NH, but this is basically meaningless. New England is
much like a single state (call it Red Soxia), and if he couldn't get a
lead in neighboring NH, his campaign would be over. He still trails in
other early primary states and by a huge amount nationally. Debates are
one of those moments when a challenger can shift the dynamics of the
race and make his candidacy suddenly seem plausible. (With the GOP's
relentless attacks and the media fascinated with her troubles, this was a
dangerous moment for the front runner.) So the question going in was
whether Sanders could begin to look like a credible threat to win the
Viewed through that lens, it was a huge win for
Hillary. After weeks of questioning her campaign, of trying to think of a
Sanders candidacy as plausible, seeing them on the stage for five
minutes restored the original dynamic. She was sharp and focused, as
charismatic and warm as she ever gets, and she looked like the only
candidate (Dem or GOP) who could actually be cast in the role of
O'Malley has anti-charisma and Chafee came off like
the hapless Bobby Newport from Parks and Rec. Webb's a perfect candidate
for 1988. (Though even then his contempt for actually campaigning would
have doomed him.)
So that leaves Bernie: could he come out and look like a plausible major party candidate? With apologies to all the Bernie-ites out there: no, he could not. He did exactly the
opposite, coming out with a performance that in tone and word said, 'I
will win or lose as an uncompromising progressive.' It's exactly why
people love Bernie, and it's why he won't win. People were joking before
the debate that this would be a test to see if he could use his "inside
voice." He did not. He didn't moderate his language toward business,
provoking one of the most fascinating exchanges I've witnessed as the
candidates discussed whether they were capitalists. (Bernie: no,
basically I'm not.)
Other issues. He doesn't care about a lot of
issues and was (literally) distracted talking about foreign policy.
He's sideways with the Dem electorate on guns. I think the biggest
problem is that is affect, both in his barking Brooklyn voice and
relentless attacks on monied interests, will wig out the average (read:
disengaged and low-information) voter. Since we liberals love this kind
of rhetoric, we're drawn to Bernie. Average Dems will use their gut
feelings to assess Bernie (since they won't have the info to assess his
policies) and conclude he's a wild-eyed crazy man.
instantly collapse in the polls, and he will continue to drive Hillary
in the progressive/populist direction. But he will not be the candidate.
That was the takeaway from last night's debate: barring some shocking
new scandal, Hillary's going to sail to the nomination. And debates will
My guess is that she did so well last night that
Biden will scrap his flirtation with a run. She's running as Obama's
heir, and she's doing too well to give him an opening.
Updates. Chafee and Webb out, Biden not running. And then there were two. Oh wait, O'Malley's still in it. And then there were two.