Two winners of the CNN debate

There were two winners last night in the CNN Democratic presidential debate.  One was expected, the other a fairly big surprise.

The expected winner was, of course, Hillary Clinton, who was well-prepared, looked the best she has in years (the tight skin under her chin was stunning for a woman so pear-shaped in the past year), and received a crucial assist from Bernie Sanders.  She was unflappable, had the perfect answer when asked whether she was a progressive (“I’m a progressive.  But I’m a progressive who likes to get things done.  And I know...[APPLAUSE] to find common ground.”), and was roundly applauded by the partisan crowd with a blunt “no.”

Hillary Clinton scored a huge applause line — or really just a huge applause word — during the Democratic presidential debate Tuesday when Lincoln Chafee suggested her email problem indicates she does not have strong ethical standards.

Asked by moderator Anderson Cooper whether she wanted to respond, Clinton simply said, "No."

The other winner was Anderson Cooper, who actually asked tough questions and even at one point a follow-up question.  He kept timing discipline, although James Webb complained of not getting enough time.  And he wasn’t afraid of Hillary:

After candidates' introductions, Cooper turned to Clinton and confronted her over perceived shifts in positions on immigration, same-sex marriage, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

"Plenty of politicians evolve on issues, but even some Democrats believe you change your positions based on political expediency," he said.

"Will you say anything to get elected?"

Clinton rejected Cooper's characterization.

"Actually, I have been very consistent over the course of my entire life. I have always fought for the same values and principles," she said. "But like most human beings, including those of us who run for office, I do absorb new information. I do look at what's happening in the world."

That answer didn't satisfy Cooper, who then questioned Clinton over whether she identified as a "progressive" or a "moderate" — she has used both descriptions on the campaign trail.

"Secretary Clinton though, with all due respect, the question's really about political expediency. Just in July, New Hampshire, you told a crowd quote, 'You'd take a backseat to no one when it comes to progressive values.' Last month, in Ohio, you said you'd plead guilty to quote 'being kind of moderate and center.' Do you change your political identity based on who you're talking to?" Cooper said.

"No, I think that like most people that I know, I have a range of views but they are rooted in my values and my experience. I don't take a backseat to anyone when it comes to progressive experience and progressive commitment," Clinton retorted.

Cooper demurred.

"Just for the record, are you a progressive or are you a moderate?" he said.

You already know how she responded.  The crowd loved it, and yet she positioned herself for the general election.

The probability of Hillary being the nominee increased last night.  And her strategy on the email scandal is clear: dismiss it.  If the Obama Justice Department gets the message that she will be the nominee and doesn’t indict her, she may get away with it.

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