The Pundit Rules, And Why Clinton Won
October 15, 2015

The consensus is that Hillary Clinton won last night's debate, and I agree -- though I also think Bernie Sanders did well. I don't quite shareJosh Marshall's belief that Sanders did better than Clinton -- Marshall thinks Clinton "had a pretty good debate" but Sanders "did really well" -- though I think this is a fair summary:

Sanders also had a good debate. He was clear, made his points with a coherence that resonates for where Democrats are right now. It was probably the first time a lot of people have heard him speak at length. He did really well.... I was struck most by his clarity, weaving together Citizens Unitedwith a critique of broken fiscal and economic policy into a coherent attack on rising plutocracy.

But the Kool Kidz disagreed. Mark Halperin gave Clinton an A and Sanders a B minus:

... appeared rattled and defensive when Clinton went after him. Struggled to engage his rival in a commanding way, often staring straight ahead rather than meeting her face to face. Was too passive for several spells, failing to create an advantageous one-on-one debate-within-the-debate with Clinton, as was expected. Didn’t garner a single decisive win in any back-and-forth with Clinton, although he looked big when dismissing her email controversy as a tempest in a teapot and a distraction from real issues. Showed little flesh and blood, beyond his trademark crankiness.

Ahhh, the trademark crankiness. National Review's Jim Geraghty wrote:

Sanders may rock the arenas when they’re filled with progressive grassroots activists, but his style doesn’t transfer well to a broader audience. He’s the party guest whom you instinctively don’t want to talk to, who begins shouting immediately, who grabs your lapel and spits a bit as he jabs his finger into your chest for emphasis. He’s Senator Larry David.

Well, maybe it's just me, but I would totally vote for Senator Larry David. A debate isn't my living room -- politics is where you're supposedto hector people once in a while. Besides, the guy who supposedly can't turn off his self-righteous ideological rage is also the guy who had the menschiest moment of the night -- a moment most commentators, including Geraghty's colleague Jonah Goldberg, seem to be completely misreading:

I can’t decide if it was shrewdness, naiveté, or something closer to cowardice that drove Sanders to bequeath unto Hillary the gift of saying, “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn e-mails!” The calculation probably involved all three motivations: He will raise a lot of money from Democrats who hate Republicans more than they dislike Hillary. He honestly thinks that presidential campaigns are won with a Ron Paul-like focus on the issues, as he defines them. And, he’s simply afraid to go for the jugular.

No. I'm reminded of an old Jon Stewart bit in which he chastised some Republican or other for choosing political advantage over common decency; the way Stewart put it was: "Be a person!" That's what Sanders did in that email exchange -- he was a person. He expressed his personal disgust at the GOP's slash-and-burn tactics and didn't care about the way that could be used or misused politically.

But here's the main reason the insiders think Sanders lost:

Chuck Todd said the debate winner was "the only person that apparently prepared, Hillary Clinton. Prepping matters." And Mark Halperin said this about Clinton's approach to prep vs. what Sanders did:

She heard about Chuck's interview with Sanders. She was incredulous, I'm told, that he had said he wasn't a capitalist. She demanded to see the transcript or the tape, I'm not sure which. And then she went after him hard. I think that ended the night. He was totally unprepared. He treated this like something he'd done before. There's nothing like that stage, and he wasn't close to ready, and his people know that.

Chuck Todd added:

I know people tried to get Sanders to prepare, but at the end of the day they're like, "Bernie be Bernie, he's very comfortable in his own skin, he does--" I think he thought doing all the interviews he does, doing all the rallies he does, he speaks off the cuff and he knows his messaging....

And on and on about lack of preparation.

That's why Hillary won, according to these people: She won the debate by their standards. She showed them that she'd successfully prepared herself to debate the way they want candidates to debate. Sanders was just who he was.

I'm of two minds about this. Ideologically I'm more progressive than Clinton, which means I'm closer to Sanders -- but I'm terrified at the prospect of a Republican presidency, and I want a Democratic presidential candidate who knows how to campaign. I'm still not sure that's Clinton -- not at a moment when the public seems to want someone who colors outside the lines. But political skills still matter -- including the skill to impress these damn pundit gatekeepers. If she's back in gear and is capable of impressing these SOBs, good for her. She needs to keep doing that -- alas.

Crossposted at No More Mister Nice Blog

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