Because Mark Halperin believes that what the world needs more of is Maureen Dowd-style fake interior monologues, he's typed up what he believes are Hillary Clinton's thoughts going into tonight's debate, allegedly "based on interviews with those closest to her." According to Halperin, Clinton thinks she's going to be skewered for her debate performance unless she's flawless:
One mistake.This is nonsense. Clinton's margin of error is not zero -- she has no margin of error. She's going to be declared the loser of tonight's debate no matter what she says or does, fails to say or fails to do.
If I make ONE mistake in the debate, that’s all the media will focus on. I’m used to pressure and I’m used to tough scrutiny, but this is absurd. I get that I’m always treated differently than EVERYONE else, but still….
... I know full well my margin of error is zero. That’s why I have been prepping even more than usual. But all that work won’t matter if I get thrown by a single question and give an answer the media decides is a gaffe. Or if I cross some imaginary line trying to contrast myself with Bernie on policy, the press will cast me as a negative and desperate combination of Lee Atwater and Alex Forrest.
The press will inform us that she was stiff or that she was overly animated. We'll be told she was excessively wonky or that she was trying too hard to be folksy. She'll be chastised for not counterpunching after being attacked or for being unappealingly aggressive. Whatever she does will be wrong.
The only question is who will be deemed "the big winner" of the debate. (Hillary will be "the big loser.") Here's one thought:
I'm going to stick my neck out and predict tonight's winner of the Carly Fiorina "enhanced stature" media prize will go to O'Malley. 1/2— Timothy Noah (@TimothyNoah1) October 13, 2015
Maybe -- but I'm going to make a longshot bet on Jim Webb. Think about what's going on in politics right now: There's so much foaming-at-the-mouth partisanship in the Republican Party that even David Brooks is noticing. On the Democratic side, the two presidential front-runners are a socialist and a mainstream candidate who's tacking leftward to keep up with the socialist. What does the insider press claim to pine for more than anything? Centrism! Something that will "bridge the partisan gap"!
Thus, Webb -- a sometimes hawkish cultural conservative who sticks up for white folks from the holler (even when, or especially when, they wave the Confederate flag) but who also thinks modern-day Republicans are a bit too much, especially on economics. We had a hint of what might be coming from The Washington Post's Rachel Weiner a couple of days ago:
The wild card at the Democratic debate could be the guy no one’s talking aboutOooh! A Democrat who criticizes other Democrats! And not for being insufficiently progressive! The press eats that kind of thing up.
... Webb falls both to the left and right of former first lady, senator and secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton. Like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), he was an early opponent of the war in Iraq. Long before Black Lives Matter protesters demanded attention from the Democratic candidates, Webb was working on criminal justice reform in the Senate.
Yet Webb holds conservative leanings as well. He opposes President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. After a white supremacist massacred nine black churchgoers in South Carolina, he called the symbolism of the Confederate flag “complicated.” He speaks often of low-income white men as ignored and disparaged by the Democratic Party.
Wait, there's more:
Like Carson and Fiorina, Webb is not a traditional politician. He left the Senate after one term. He likes to remind voters that he goes in and out of public service.See? The press would love to turn Webb into a myth. The problem is that he's a terrible at politics and inevitably falls short of whatever hype he receives.
“He hates politics,” said Dave “Mudcat” Saunders, a longtime friend and adviser to Webb. “He’s a Renaissance man.”
In an atmosphere where establishment politicians are despised on both sides of the aisle, Webb’s genuine rebelliousness could be an asset.
The simplest response to the debate, of course, would be to say that Bernie Sanders crushed Clinton -- but Sanders won't give the press the catnip it wants (endless attacks on Clinton) and doggedly clings to that icky, not-fabulous progressivism. He could be much further to the right than he is to the left and be treated as a dreamboat by the media (see, e.g., Paul Ryan), but he's just not the Beltway insiders' type.
It must be killing them: They want Hillary taken down, but they want her taken down by someone who loathes her, and Sanders just seems to like his own ideas more than he hates her. They'd love it if Sanders made this personal, the way Ralph Nader did against the equally despised Al Gore in 2000. But he's not coming through.
So sure, the press's chosen winner of tonight's debate could be O'Malley. But I'm going to risk picking Webb.