First, let’s start with the obvious and state that Hillary “won” last night’s Democratic debate in Las Vegas. I place scare quotes around won because otherwise the word implies that the debate was a contest where Hillary’s opponents had the capability or intent of besting her. That clearly was not the case last night.
Think about this, if Hillary had been able to stage the debate would it have looked any different than what we saw last night? I think not. It wasn’t a real debate in the manner that we’re accustomed to. It was a show designed to make Hillary look good.
It had Jim Webb staking out the right flank of the Democratic party (a lonely position these days) so Hillary could demonstrate her progressive bona fides.
It had Martin O’Malley with all the energy of a sloth on Quaaludes so Hillary could show her vim and vigor.
It had Lincoln Chafee who appeared incapable of running a carpool to say nothing of a country so Hillary could come off as competent and in command.
Finally, the debate featured everyone’s favorite crazy uncle Bernie Sanders so that with the most minimal tacking to the center Hillary would appear to be a moderate and reasonable choice.
From start to finish the debate was all about Hillary. The other candidates were merely props for her to play off to further her own purposes. The other candidates weren’t there to win, they were there to play their particular role which they all dutifully did. Sure she took some hits and didn’t always perform perfectly. But like a professional wrestling match where the no name scrub occasionally gets the best of the well know star only to always lose at the end, the outcome of last night’s debate was never in doubt.
So yes Hillary “won” the debate. And now Democrats and the media will crow about her stellar performance, talk about how she’s got her groove back, marvel at what a formidable candidate she will be in the general election, and compare her new position of strength with all the messing infighting on the Republican side.
However, I wonder if at some point in the future we’ll look back on this as a hollow victory. While it’s possible that the brutal battles among the GOP candidates could weaken the eventual nominee and hurt them in November 2016, it’s also quite possible that such struggles end with a nominee who’s tried, tested, and stronger as a result. When the general election campaign starts Hillary won’t be facing off against cupcakes, but against a real candidate with the conviction and capability to defeat her. And the debates will be real.