Was Biden the biggest loser last night?
If you believe the mainstream media (always dangerous!), Hillary Clinton was the overwhelming winner last night. The Washington Post’s 202 blog provides a valuable summary of more than a dozen conventional wisdom takes on the debate, all concluding that Hillary gobbled up the gold medal. The implications:
Other important takeaways from the evening–
1. Hillary’s tight hug of Obama means there is less room for Biden. Mindful of a possible bid by the vice president, Clinton clearly wanted to send a message that she will aggressively compete for the Obama coalition and continue to grab for the president’s mantle. “I would have to think this would give him some pause,” longtime Obama strategist David Axelrod said of Biden after the debate.
After publicly breaking with him recently on issues like immigration, the Keystone XL Pipeline and the TransPacific Partnership, the most striking storyline of the night was how closely Clinton tied herself to Obama. The full embrace of her exrival is also a testament to the president’s enduring popularity among Democratic primary voters.
Hillary namedropped Obama more than anyone else, by far. Responding to questions about her early support for the Iraq war, she noted that Obama opposed it but still chose her for secretary of state. Clinton used the word “we” repeatedly to describe various actions overseas, including a dramatic retelling of herself and Obama chasing after the Chinese to try getting a climate change deal. Asked how she’d differ from Obama in the White House, Hillary dodged by noting that she’d be the first female president. (Read the full transcript here.)
2. Pressure is mounting on Biden to make a decision — fast. Bloomberg’s Margaret Talev points out that Biden’s name didn’t come up once during the twohour faceoff, and that former Biden chief of staff Ron Klain was by her side when a celebratory Clinton addressed supporters afterward. Klain helped Clinton prepare, and his presence seemed designed to send a notsosubtle message.
The spin room buzz was that Clinton’s strong performance takes some air out of the Biden trial balloons.
That said, Ron Fournier of the National Journal, who has covered the Clintons since their Arkansas governorship days, is not so certain the glow will last for Hillary in “Hillary Clinton Won (But It Won’t Always Be This Way)”:
The embattled frontrunner won herself a news cycle or two, because she stretched the truth and played to a friendly audience. It won’t always be so.
It took more than an hour before CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked Clinton about the covert email system she established as secretary of State in defiance of federal regulations, subverting the Freedom of Information Act, thwarting congressional oversight, and jeopardizing U.S. secrets. And, even then, her chief rival offered Clinton cover.
“What I did was allowed by the State Department,” said the woman who headed the State Department, “but it wasn’t the best choice.” Clinton noted that the GOP-led Benghazi committee—the panel that discovered her rogue email system—is on record trying to undermine her credibility. GOP partisans were partisan, and yet, she dramatically declared, “I’m still standing.”
The Democratic crowd roared. “I think the secretary is right,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a populist threatening Clinton from the left. “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about emails.”
Professional Democrats and the party’s strongest voters are certainly tired of hearing about the email scandal, but 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.
Later, Fournier notes how dishonest Clinton was:
Sanders and O’Malley said Clinton isn’t tough enough on trade, noting that she only recently abandoned her support of the TransPacific Partnership to curry favor with the party’s union friends. Was it a flip-flop? “I did say when I was secretary of State three years ago that I hoped it would be the gold standard,” Clinton said.
She was misquoting herself, adding the “I hoped” caveat. Here’s what she actually said at the time: “This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field.”
See how she does it? It worked Tuesday night. She won. She survived and won with a performance that was as dishonest as it was impressive, that benefited from a friendly crowd and weak field.
A Clinton winning with dishonesty and capitalizing on weak opponents? No wonder I am having uncomfortable 1990s flashbacks. Does anyone think the media will call her on her lies?
So back to Joe B. If he is going to declare, he’d better do it soon. But seeing Hillary on her game, he is thinking about what his record could look like in the hands of her oppo researchers.