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Despite Hillary's Good Debate, Dems Should Keep Joe On Deck

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Willie Mays, Ken Griffey, Jr., Bryce Harper. In addition to being three of the few people not currently running for president of the United States, they are all acclaimed five-tool players. That is, they could do it all: throw, field, run, hit consistently and hit powerfully.


A presidential election is a lot like a baseball game. Unless you're a superfan, you think it takes way too long and that it's too prone to disruption, at any moment, by a crazy cosmic intervention that changes the state of play.

Hillary Clinton proved on Tuesday night that she can definitely hit for power. At the first Democratic debate in Las Vegas she made her opponents look like the Democratic farm team, not quite ready for "the show," as "Bull Durham's" Crash Davis calls the majors.

So conventional wisdom (at least among Clinton supporters) presumes that a bid by Vice President Joe Biden is no longer needed to save the Democratic nomination from Sen. Bernie Sanders, who almost certainly would not win a general election. But not so fast -- Clinton may be great at debate, but she's no five-tool player.

The umpires were quick to call the game on Tuesday night. "If the Biden candidacy is predicated on Clinton's weakened position," said Jeff Link, an Iowa Democratic strategist, "I think last night makes that a tougher argument."

Democratic strategist and former Obama spokesperson Stephanie Cutter agreed, telling the New York Times' Jonathan Martin, "If Biden's only rationale is that Clinton is tanking, then that's no longer an option."

Clinton's own campaign chairman, John Podesta, put the full court press, to mix metaphors, on Biden after Hillary's winning performance: "This debate has been joined. We're talking about different ideas about how to take the country forward, how to improve and build upon what President Obama has achieved. And if Vice President Biden wants to enter and compete for the presidency, then it is time for him to make that decision."


Sorry, Joe. Your time has come and gone, it would seem.

Perhaps Biden was relieved by Clinton's great night and will take this off-ramp to exit politics gracefully and well-rested.

But if he really has it in his heart to run, he should not be deterred by what was undoubtedly the best two hours of Hillary's 2016 campaign.

Indeed, this week's debate was hardly a debate at all. The four other candidates were very hesitant to attack Clinton, leaving even obvious fodder for critique on the table in an effort to remain, for the most part, polite and unified. This is not a sustainable strategy. If Sanders or anyone else truly wants to win the nomination rather than merely rack up frequent flier miles and Twitter followers, he will need to hit Hillary hard on her policy inconsistencies and her questionable record of accomplishments while secretary of state. This isn't below the belt -- it's is perfectly appropriate, and when Clinton finally receives some pushback from fellow Democrats, she might suffer a setback.

But even if we presume that Hillary will continue to have great debate performances, so far there are only five left and a lot more campaigning to do. The other tools a good presidential campaigner must possess are simply not in Clinton's wheelhouse. She's demonstrably proved unable to put negative press behind her. She comes off as defensive and condescending during interviews. She appears wooden and inauthentic on the campaign trail. She has not been able to generate the kind of enthusiasm that her predecessor or her nearest rival have, and in fact she's losing support among her key contingents, Democratic women. Furthermore, as National Journal's Josh Kraushaar points out, "Hillary Clinton's favorability with white men is worse than Jeb Bush's with Hispanics, Ben Carson's with African-Americans, and Carly Fiorina's with women," judging by Quinnipiac polls.


Tuesday's debate was the positive jolt Clinton's campaign needed, but it did little to erase her existing problems, namely that voters find her untrustworthy. She will still confront this reality on the campaign trail and may likely even find new moments to exacerbate it.

Whether it was meant to be a rescue attempt or a genuine pursuit, Biden's candidacy should still be considered viable. I expect we'll learn very soon whether Joe thinks Hillary's got the game all but won or if the Democrats need a pinch-runner to bring it home. Run, Joe, run.


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