Hillary Clinton had the Debate She Needed, at Least to Shift the Media Narrative

by Laura Clawson –

sanders clinton cnn debate

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders weren’t too far apart on the clock at Tuesday night’s debate, with Clinton getting 30 minutes and 25 seconds of time to Sanders’ 27 minutes and 41 seconds. But Clinton dominated the post-debate media coverage to a greater extent, with a near-consensus that she did what she needed to do and then some. The Associated Press:

Forceful and confident in debate, Hillary Rodham Clinton may have heartened jittery Democrats who’ve spent the summer worrying that her mishandling of the email controversy demonstrates more fundamental problems with her campaign and political skills.

The Los Angeles Times highlighted one of the reasons for the particular media narrative around Clinton’s strong debate:

Headlines about her use of a private email server while running the State Department put her on the defensive. Her defensiveness reminded many voters about their qualms over her truthfulness. Those voter qualms gave many Democratic activists and donors the jitters.As Tuesday night’s debate began, Clinton quickly sought to break out of that vicious cycle and turn the spotlight to her strengths, not her weaknesses. And after a summer in which she seldom seemed able to keep the focus where she wanted it, the debate largely seemed to go her way.

The media wanted a dramatic narrative—for Clinton to fall on her face or to dominate. Since she did well, she’s getting what might be an exaggerated domination narrative. Reviews of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ performance were more mixed, though generally on the positive side. And of course, he produced the most memorable line of the night—that “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails”—though it’s being chalked up more to Clinton’s benefit than to his. But commentators were quick to note that Sanders struggled a bit on gun control … and of course, he faced some creepily red-baiting questions from Anderson Cooper. In true Sanders fashion, he mostly swept aside Cooper’s more personally directed questions to focus on the issues, but he wasn’t able to redirect the media narrative in the way Clinton did.

One player that did win here was the Democratic Party. While it’s unlikely the debate will have racked up the Trump-fueled numbers of the Republican debates, no one can question which party’s debate was more substantive and, well, adult. As for the other three candidates on the stage, Martin O’Malley clocked in at 17 minutes and eight seconds and while he probably didn’t hurt himself, he didn’t have the breakout performance he needed. Jim Webb got 15 minutes and 20 seconds of time, but probably three of those minutes were dedicated to whining about how little time he was getting, and aside from generally revealing himself to be a Republican, his answer that is getting the most attention is the creepy, smirking one about killing a Viet Cong soldier. As for Lincoln Chafee, even his nine minutes and five seconds were a total waste.


Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos


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