In the annals of intra party debates, it is hard to fine one completely owned by a single candidate. That alone makes Hillary Clinton’s total dominance last night historic.
I have three takeaways from last night’s Democratic debate in Las Vegas:
1. Hillary Clinton dominated every step of the debate. She wasn’t just good enough to rest the Nervous Nellies in the Democratic party. No, she demonstrated to anyone watching that she is the only candidate in the top tier of her party.
This shouldn’t be a surprise, unless you want to give yourself over to a competing media and Republican narrative that was always more fiction than fact as my colleague, Jerold Duquette, has often reminded us.
Still, there were moments this summer when you could feel the Democrats’ Nervous Caucus start to sweat. The rise of Bernie Sanders and the separate drumbeats of support for Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden indicated that the former Secretary of State hadn’t yet closed the deal.
She closed it last night. She didn’t just confirm that she will lead the Democratic party next year; she offered a solid foundation for why she should.
2. The debate itself was a study in contrasts between the two parties.
It’s probably unlikely that many undecided voters watched last night’s debate. There are really few truly undecided voters and it was a very long night a year before the general election.
It’s too bad because the Democrats offered a substantive commentary on actual policies that demonstrated how reasonable people disagree, sometimes sharply, without resorting to the childish antics that have dominated the other side courtesy of their own candidates.
There were only adults on the stage last night. Adults who seem to appreciate their age, roles, and maturity. The exchange between Bernie Sanders and Jim Webb over service in Vietnam was particularly insightful: each one respectful of the other’s very different decisions.
That is how adults disagree. It’s how a party that aspires to governance behaves.
3. These are made for television debates designed for ratings. The moderators are also the stars and I found myself at times murmuring under my breath, “This isn’t about you, Anderson.” But, alas, it is, at least in part.
Still, into this world of Debates that should really be called Controlled Conversations Designed to Highlight Our Network, Dominate Ratings, and Maybe Get to the Candidates, CNN did an adequate job.
The only moments that were facepalm inducing were the lack of diversity on the stage compounded by CNN’s decision to introduce journalists of color to ask questions on race and immigration. These are important questions but to segregate your interlocutors in such a way is more than odd. It’s shameful.
So, at the end of a long night, we have some balance restored to the race. The oxygen in the Democratic room that had been supporting the draft Biden moment has been depleted, none of the men on stage came close to appearing worthy of the nomination, and the Democrats are more than ready to strongly contest the general election.