Why Hillary Clinton was clear winner in first debate

Only Bernie Sanders made any impact at all. But deprived of his adoring crowds, Sanders’ pitch fell flat. 

John Locher/AP
Hillary Rodham Clinton (r.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont speak during the CNN Democratic presidential debate on Tuesday in Las Vegas.

My impression of the first Democratic debate of the 2016 cycle comports with that of the media accounts that I’ve read: Hillary Clinton was the clear winner and, among her challengers, only Bernie Sanders made any impact at all.

Clinton has been in the national spotlight for 23 years and nearly won the nomination eight years ago. So perhaps it’s not surprising that she was far and away the most comfortable on the debate stage. But she was ready for every question and managed to avoid looking bored or condescending.

Deprived of his adoring crowds, Sanders’ pitch fell flat. He strikes me as the Democratic Donald Trump, feeding his party’s id without the slightest regard for feasibility. He seems to think that simply wanting bad things to go away will make it so.

Sanders’ counterpoise is Jim Webb, the Democratic John McCain. Like the 2008 Republican nominee, he’s long taken positions that put him at odds with his own base. And, sadly, both have gotten much crankier in recent years. I half expected him to tell the other candidates to get off his lawn last night.

Lincoln Chafee is Democratic Lindsey Graham, well qualified for the job in terms of experience but lacking the personal gravitas to be taken seriously.

My favorite of the candidates is Martin O’Malley, who’s serving as the Democratic John Kasich. As a former mayor and governor, he has tons of executive experience and his record is one that would appeal to swing voters in a general election campaign. He comes across as likeable but, alas, didn’t do anything last night likely to connect him with the voters.

Clinton is the odds-on front-runner. Nothing last night even put a slight dent in that. And, indeed, Sanders’ seeming dismissal of the e-mail scandal as a relevant issue may well have given her a boost.

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