No 'magical solutions.'

Photographer: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

Clinton Cleans Up

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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The Democrats -- Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O'Malley -- put on another spirited debate. Granted, hardly anyone was watching on a Saturday night before Christmas.

Sanders did what he's in the contest to do: Make the case for the most liberal wing of the Democratic party. For him, it really does come down to the rich vs. the rest. His most telling moment was turning a question about domestic terrorism and ethnic profiling back to income inequality, saying, "I believe we stand together to address the real issues facing this country, not allow them to divide us by race or where we come from."

Sanders is knowledgeable in many areas, but the reason he's not in sync with his party isn't so much specific differences on policies as it is that he seems to be saying that other concerns -- ISIS, race, immigration and so on -- aren't "real issues." 

As for Martin O'Malley: His low point was leveling a prepared charge of "bickering" at Sanders and Clinton (over the campaign data issue that blew up late in the week). Had he noticed that only a minute earlier Sanders had apologized, and Clinton had accepted the apology and played down the issue? It didn't get better: The audience booed him when he brought up the age difference between himself and the other two. 

Clinton remains much better at this than any of the other twentysome candidates who have debated for the presidency this year, Republican and Democrat. She almost certainly won the soundbite war -- first by deftly apologizing for returning late to the stage after a commercial break, and then, when asked if Wall Street should love her as president, confidently responded that "everybody should." (And that's not even counting her "may the Force be with you" comment at the end of her final statement.)

Her strong debate performances might help Clinton avoid an embarrassing loss in Iowa or New Hampshire. But even if they don't, she has had the Democratic nomination wrapped up for some time, and nothing changed she did on Saturday night changes that.

This doesn't mean she will be a great general-election candidate or, if she wins, a great president. But even if general-election debates aren't that important, it's safe to say she'll do her homework. After all, as one person pointed out on Twitter, she went to the seemingly pointless trouble of mastering the opposition research against O'Malley. She will be prepared in 2016, and not just when it comes to debates.

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:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

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