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Sanders Gives Clinton a Chance to Soar

Francis Wilkinson writes editorials on politics and U.S. domestic policy for Bloomberg View. He was executive editor of the Week. He was previously a national affairs writer for Rolling Stone, a communications consultant and a political media strategist.
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Bernie Sanders is passionate. He has lofty ideals. He has a vision of a better, more communitarian America where plutocrats are constrained and average people are elevated. And if Democrats want to make progress on achieving Sanders's goals, they will nominate Hillary Clinton for president.

That was the message of the Democratic debate in Las Vegas Tuesday. Clinton's vision deficit wasn't exposed by Sanders; it was outsourced to him. Suddenly, her programmatic assault on public policy -- a five-point plan! -- had a thematic framework. Time and again, Sanders announced a distant destination. Time and again, Clinton laid down the roadway to take the country there. All the way there? No. Maybe not halfway. But some of the way.

Clinton is not a visionary. But Sanders is not a president. None of the four men on the stage is, or will be. Clinton's policy proposals repeatedly settled into a happy valley -- a little but further along than President Barack Obama's, but not as far as Sanders's. She refused to compete with Sanders on Social Security expansion or free college. She promised only to exceed Obama.

Sanders did more than anyone but Kevin McCarthy to diminish Clinton's e-mail problem, saying, "Let's talk about the real issues facing America." It won't put the e-mails behind her, but it neutered the issue for everyone on the stage, including moderator Anderson Cooper.

Sanders was not an antagonist. For Clinton, he was a tag-team partner. His cranky authenticity contrasted with Clinton's cool professionalism, but largely to her benefit. Republicans may be sufficiently unhinged to entertain (and be entertained by) Donald Trump and Ben Carson. Few Democrat voters are ready to board such shaky vessels. They may never love Clinton. But she showed them tonight why they will probably vote for her.  

"I have a lifetime of experience of getting results," Clinton said. "I know what it takes."

It's a dull message for a vexing moment in history. But Clinton believes it. And Democrats almost certainly will buy it.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Francis Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net