Today's Hillary News & Views focuses on the first Democratic primary debate, which finds Hillary Clinton enjoying something that rarely, if ever, comes her way: universal praise from the media.
I'll share some highlights below the fold, but first, some perspective on that praise.
FiveThirtyEight: "The Media Underestimated Hillary Clinton. It Overestimated Her Debate."
Before last night’s debate, I suggested the media was likely to emerge with one of two narratives about the state of Hillary Clinton’s campaign: either that she was mounting a comeback, or that she was in a downward spiral. “It may not take all that much,” I wrote, “for the media to choose one narrative over another and then find all sorts of ‘evidence’ to reinforce it.”
Clinton gave about the performance that might reasonably have been expected from a frontrunner who gained a ton of experience as a debater during the 2008 Democratic primary: pretty good. Poised, polished and highly competent at appealing to various segments of the Democratic electorate.
So you can expect the “Clinton comeback” narrative to prevail over the “Clinton in disarray” narrative — at least for a few news cycles.
The difference between FiveThirtyEight’s view of the debate and Mark Halperin’s or The New York Times’ is that we’ve been skeptical of the “Clinton in disarray” narrative for a long time.
While Clinton isn’t “inevitable,” she has a lot of things going for her, with near-unanimous support from the Democratic establishment, high favorability ratings among Democrats (even as her ratings have fallen among independents), and a solid lead in national polls that appears to have stabilized recently.
Nor are her opponents in much of a position to topple her.
From our vantage point, then, declaring a “Clinton comeback” is a bit like declaring Tom Brady or LeBron James to be the comeback player of the year.
Clinton didn’t have anything to come back from; she was winning the nomination race before last night’s debate — by a lot.
With that qualifier out of the way, let's bask in some of that glowing coverage.
CNN: "Hillary's Big Night on the Debate Stage."
Hillary Clinton delivered a poised, polished performance in the campaign's first Democratic presidential debate, firmly defending herself against claims that she flip flops for political gain and likely quelling nerves in her own party after a stumbling start.
Her confident demeanor on the debate stage in Las Vegas may also dampen speculation that there is a place in the race for Vice President Joe Biden, who is still agonizing over a decision about whether to mount a late presidential run.
"The issue is not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get back up," said Clinton, who also rejected the critique that her changing positions on the vast Trans Pacific Trade deal, the Keystone XL Pipeline and gay marriage meant she is just a hostage to shifting political winds.
"I have been very consistent," Clinton said.
"Over the course of my entire life, I have always fought for the same values and principles, 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."The Guardian: "Hillary Clinton rises above controversy – and a Sanders revolution – at debate."
Hillary Clinton has cemented her status as the Democratic presidential nominee-in-waiting with a commanding and assured performance at the first televised debate of the party’s primary race for the White House.
Clinton, who was poised and unruffled throughout the two-hour debate, deftly portrayed the controversy over her use of the potentially un-secure private email server as the focus of conservative adversaries and, in particular, the Republican House committee that has called her to testify this month.
“It is a partisan vehicle, as admitted by the House Republican majority leader, Mr [Kevin] McCarthy, to drive down my poll numbers,” she said. “Big surprise. And that’s what they have attempted to do.”
She added: “I’m still standing. I am happy to be part of this debate. And I intend to keep talking about the issues that matter to the American people.”Quartz: "Hillary Clinton easily outpaces her rivals at the first Democratic debate."
It wasn’t much of a contest. By the time Bernie Sanders declined a gift-wrapped opportunity to dig into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s e-mail scandal, it was clear that Clinton would emerge from the first Democratic debate with a clear path to the nomination.
Unlike the Republican debates, there was unity of purpose on display in Las Vegas: the policy differences between these candidates are largely issues of degree, and at times, the candidates reveled in their solidarity and focused on their contrast with conservatives on issues of race and gender.
Clinton didn’t side with some of her colleagues on breaking up the banks, but her financial reform plan would impose significant restrictions on large financial institutions. Everyone loves family medical leave. Sanders would expand social security, while Clinton would limit any enhancements to social security to the particularly underprivileged.
Clinton had answers on topics where she might fail to connect with the Democratic base, like her vote to authorize the Iraq war (she found absolution in being appointed Secretary of State by Iraq war opponent Barack Obama).
And as the only woman on stage—and potentially the first woman president—she has a built-in advantage within the Democratic coalition.Slate: "Hillary’s Debate Should End the Biden Talk."
As of the first Democratic presidential debate—held Tuesday in Las Vegas—Biden wasn’t in the race. But then, the evening’s events showed that Democrats don’t need him.
If there’s anything to take from the 2½-hour match between Clinton, Sanders, Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb, and Lincoln Chafee, it’s that Clinton is the front-runner for a reason, and there’s no room for Biden.
Sanders was passionate, and O’Malley was an able voice for left-of-center (but not “socialist”) Democrats. But neither touched Clinton, who outclassed them with policy mastery and impressive political deftness.
She dominated the stage on foreign policy and national security, areas where Sanders could express broad themes but wasn’t prepared to talk specifics.
And on issues where Sanders is actually comfortable—social policy and Wall Street regulation—Clinton held her own, going into the weeds to press her case for shrinking banks and reducing college tuition.
That’s not to say Sanders was irrelevant—he was a major presence on the stage—but he wasn’t prepared to challenge an experienced candidate like Clinton, who spent months debating against Barack Obama, John Edwards, Biden, and other challengers in the 2008 primary.USA Today: "Clinton punches back at first Democratic debate."
A feisty Hillary Clinton refused to be a punching bag in the first Democratic debate, forcefully going after her chief rival, Bernie Sanders, and the longer-shot candidates in the field as she defended her front-runner status in the presidential race — sometimes with a calm smile.
When O'Malley offered criticism of Clinton, including saying she was "too quick" to turn to the military intervention as a solution, Clinton was ready.
"I have to say, I was very pleased when Governor O'Malley endorsed me for president in 2008, and I enjoyed his strong support in that campaign," she said.
When Cooper asked Clinton whether Sanders is tough enough on guns, she didn't hesitate.
"No, not at all," she answered.
Clinton said one of Sanders' failings was voting to give gun companies immunity from lawsuits.
Later, when Sanders was asked whether he's a capitalist, he answered that no, he's not "part of the casino capitalist process by which so few have so much and so many have so little by which Wall Street's greed and recklessness wrecked this economy." He cited Scandinavian countries like Denmark as the gold standard for helping "working people."
Clinton interrupted to slam Sanders.
"We are not Denmark. I love Denmark. We are the United States of America. And it's our job to rein in the excesses of capitalism so that it doesn't run amok," she said.
Chafee on multiple occasions drilled home that he has "had no scandals," that "credibility is an issue" and the country needs an ethical president. The moderator asked Clinton whether she wanted to respond.
"No," she said, brushing off Chafee with a grin.Fortune: "Hillary Clinton Dominated the First Democratic Debate."
Hillary Clinton certainly won the first Democratic presidential debate. But saying so fails to capture the dominance of her performance. With the frontrunner at center stage, the four other contenders might as well have been arrayed in a V-formation behind her — with the possible exception of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the self-described democratic socialist.
The others melted into the wings. And though Sanders engaged Clinton at times sharply on the economy, Wall Street, and the use of military force, Clinton responded forcefully (including by going on offense on gun control, where she outflanks him to the left).
More importantly, she deftly navigated a course that closed her ideological distance from the populist insurgent where possible while keeping one eye fixed on the general-election horizon.
That is, where she couldn’t parry, Clinton would simply redirect, dropping a reminder that Democrats’ real fight is with the opposing party.Salon: "The real reason Hillary Clinton won the debate: No one else was on her level."
I’ll give credit where it’s due: Hillary turned in a solid performance. It was clear from the outset that she was easily the most practiced and capable debater on the stage, which makes sense given that she’s done this about 300 times. She had effective retorts for pretty much every challenge the moderators and her opponents tossed at her, and she has an easy command of a broad range of policy issues.
But that’s not to say that she dominated the event entirely with her own rhetorical skills and argumentative chops. It’s easy to pick on Chafee and Webb because they’re clowns who aren’t actually running for president. The two candidates who really needed to seize this opportunity were Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley. They each gave passable performances, but neither presented the sort of threat to Clinton that Obama was in 2007 and 2008.New York Times: "Democratic Debate Turns Hillary Clinton's Way After Months of Difficulties."
All night, the debate played to Mrs. Clinton’s advantage and to her opponents’ limitations. From gun control and banking regulations to debt-free college and Social Security benefits, Mrs. Clinton positioned herself as a champion of liberals, young people, and the elderly — the very voters who make up the Sanders coalition — while also repeatedly reaching out to women, as an advocate for families and children (and as, potentially, the nation’s first female president).
By the end of Tuesday night’s debate, Mrs. Clinton had seized every opening to try to accomplish her chief goal: re-establishing trust with Democrats who have come to doubt her honesty and political competence after months of difficulties and shifting policy positions.
Right from her opening remarks, Mrs. Clinton sounded a liberal rallying cry, saying “the wealthy pay too little and the middle class pays too much” in taxes. She sought to create a bond with voters by saying she would judge free-trade deals, which are broadly unpopular on the left, by whether she could “look into the eyes of any middle-class American and say this will help raise your wages.”
She called for increasing Social Security benefits for the poorest recipients and singled out older women who were “impoverished” because they had not earned enough money earlier in their lives.
And she was blunt in saying she has a liberal political philosophy but is also a pragmatic leader who would work with both Democrats and Republican to pass legislation.
“I’m a progressive, but I’m a progressive who likes to get things done,” she said. “I know how to find common ground, but I know how to stand my ground.”Politico: "Insiders: A Runaway Victory for Clinton."
Hillary Clinton won — by a landslide. Clinton was the clear winner of the first Democratic presidential debate, according to the assessment of both Democrats and Republicans in this week's POLITICO Caucus, our bipartisan survey of the top activists, operatives and strategists in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.
Seventy-nine percent of Democratic insiders surveyed said she dominated her four opponents onstage. Fifty-four percent of Republicans said the same.
"Not even close," an unaffiliated New Hampshire Democrat said. "Hillary crushed it tonight."
"I think that everyone walked into this debate looking for her to make a mistake, and she didn't," an Iowa Democrat said.
"On top of that, Sanders' lack of preparation showed, and O'Malley was trying too hard to look presidential to be effective."
"I'm a reluctant Clinton supporter, but I thought she killed it tonight," a South Carolina Democrat said. "She was in a league of her own. Prepared, confident, funny. And she genuinely seemed to be enjoying herself up there. Everyone who knows and loves Hillary Clinton always says how personable and funny she is in person. I felt like watching her performance in this debate was the first time I've gotten a sense of that side of her. For crying out loud...she made a joke about women taking longer in the bathroom! "The Hill: "Clinton Scores Big in First Debate."
Hillary Clinton had the best night of her presidential campaign in Las Vegas on Tuesday, scoring a clear-cut victory over Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and her other rivals at the first Democratic debate.
Clinton’s experience — she debated President Obama more than 20 times during the 2008 campaign — was apparent in a fluent and confident performance.
[I]t was Clinton’s night, her performance polished enough to calm Democratic nerves, consolidate her standing as a dominant front-runner — and also, perhaps, lower the chance of Vice President Biden entering the presidential race.
CNN had a lectern held in reserve for Biden, but he was never mentioned throughout the proceedings.
[S]he was scoring points even late in the debate, bringing loud cheers when she assailed the Republican Party’s often-stated opposition to “big government.”
“They don't mind having big government to interfere with a woman's right to choose and to try to take down Planned Parenthood,” an impassioned Clinton said. “They’re fine with big government when it comes to that. I'm sick of it.”Roll Call: "Clinton Commanding in First Democratic Debate."
Martha McKenna, a former political director for the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, said that Clinton “exceeded even the extremely high expectations of her tonight. Strong, prepared and tough while being personable and confident.”
Bill Burton, who ran the Obama super PAC Priorities USA in 2012 and worked on Obama’s 2008 campaign and in the White House, said Clinton “just dominated throughout. There was only one varsity player on that stage.“
Marsh said Clinton was “authentic, strong, compassionate, substantive — the full package. She blew everyone else away.”
Legacki said Clinton’s turning Republican criticism of “big government” forcing paid family leave onto Americans that will force small businesses to hire fewer workers into an attack on Republican “big government” intruding into women’s health issues was “huge.”
“A defining moment for her in the debate and a crystal clear illustration of progressive values in contrast to knee-jerk positions from the Republicans,” Legacki said. “I guarantee we’ll be seeing more of that throughout this election.”Washington Post: "Does Clinton’s debate win take the air out of Biden’s balloon?"
In the spin room following the debate, Clinton's allies as well as senior Democrats who have not taken sides in the primary said a debate that is likely to give Clinton a needed jolt of momentum also may have sucked a lot of air out of the Biden balloon.
How, they wondered, could Biden now convince donors and other top Democrats now backing Clinton to abandon her and join his campaign?
Former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a Clinton supporter who attended the Las Vegas debate as a surrogate for her, all but said Biden could not.
“Neither Hillary nor I want to weigh in on the vice president’s decision-making here," Villaraigosa said. "This is a decision he’s making with his family. But if you’re asking me, 'Did she look unbeatable tonight,' the answer is, 'yes.' Is she the candidate the Republicans fear the most? The answer is, 'yes.' Did she look presidential, calm, deliberate, passionate about the issues? The answer is, resoundingly, 'yes.'"
The official line from the Clinton campaign was that they were thrilled with the candidate's performance and that Biden had to make his own decision.Some video highlights from the debate:
Paid Leave & Planned Parenthood:
"I'm a progressive who likes to get things done."
"Everybody here has changed a position or two."
For more on Hillary Clinton's campaign for the presidency, check out…
The Hillary 2016 Platform Series
Part 1: Criminal Justice Reform
Part 2: Immigration Reform
Part 3: Voting Rights
Unfiltered Hillary: The Transcripts
September 4, 2015: MSNBC Interview with Andrea Mitchell
August 14, 2015: Iowa Wing Ding Dinner
July 31, 2015: National Urban League
July 20, 2015: Facebook Q&A
July 17, 2015: Iowa State Democratic Party Hall of Fame Dinner
April 23, 2015: Women in the World Summit