Clinton inarguably made that choice a lot more difficult. She confidently dispatched tough questions about her flip-flops on trade and the Iraq War. She embraced Obama’s achievements while deftly saying she would go “beyond” his record on student debt and health care. And she got the greatest gift she could hope for when Sanders declared her emails a nonissue. Clinton’s spontaneous, and warm, embrace of Sanders after their exchange showed that, no, she’s not a robot.
Going into tonight, Clinton’s strategy was to make Biden seem “unimportant” by focusing on substance and policy. On those fronts she delivered big, and did much to soothe the fears of her anxious supporters. “I felt that we saw the next president of the United States,” Palmieri said. For Biden, the danger in waiting has always been that the political landscape could shift before he announces. Tonight’s debate shifted the landscape. In recent weeks, the conventional view among Democrats has been that Clinton’s email scandal combined with her inability to connect created a wide opening for Biden to get in (along with the inspirational way he grieved following his son’s tragic death).
The most powerful image Clinton conveyed tonight is that she’s an actual candidate rather than a virtual one.