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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Good Cop, Bad Cop

Last night’s Democratic presidential candidate debate in Philadelphia was peculiar in that the event’s moderators, Tim Russert and Brian Williams, skewed the first half to meet the expectation that this would be a slug-fest with Obama and Edwards taking on HRC. Chris Dodd’s famous Talk Clock showed a time allocation in which the big three plus the moderators soaked up 75 of the 105 minutes of actual debate. But more obviously, an extraordinary number of the questions were about HRC, whose physical position between Edwards and Obama underlined the sense that she was undergoing an inquisition.
That’s certainly how the event struck TNR’s Noam Scheiber:

The real development was the contrast between Obama and Edwards, both of whom were auditioning for the role of Clinton alternative, and who sounded at times like two homicide detectives working over a murder suspect.

Yep. John Edwards played bad cop and Barack Obama played good cop. As in every detective drama, the bad cop got in the best lines. But substance aside, the real question is how viewers felt about the one woman on the stage getting the third degree.
As is often the case, there was a notable disconnect between MSM and blogospheric reaction to the debate, though not in the direction you might expect. MSMers generally interpreted the event as really bad news for Hillary Clinton, and to the extent that they chose a winner, crowned Edwards. (That ultimate journalistic insider, Mark Halperin of Time, gave Edwards an “A” and HRC a “C-minus”). Immediately after the debate on MSNBC, the buzz was all about HRC’s mishandling of the question about drivers’ licenses for illegal immigrants (no one, BTW, seemed interested in the fact that Obama and Edwards actually support the highly unpopular idea).
But in most precincts of the progressive blogosphere, there wasn’t much of a sense that there were clear winners or losers. A DailyKos reader poll pretty much broke along candidate-preference lines. Matt Stoller of OpenLeft found the whole thing boring. Dana Goldstein at TAPPED, who admits she was rooting for Obama, thought Clinton was the ultimate winner.
This reaction must have been puzzling to Edwards’ campaign. After all, their candidate channeled the standard netroots attack lines on HRC quite faithfully: he went after her on Iran, but also made her residual troop plan for Iraq a key differentiator, for the very first time. He all but used “Republican Lite” to describe her policy views, and deployed lots of netroots buzz words and phrases, tying HRC to “neocons” and a “corrupt system,” and talking incessantly about “standing up” to Bush/Cheney and corporations. Yet it was Mark Halperin, not any blogger, who thought Edwards hit a home run while HRC struck out.
I don’t know what, if anything, this differential reaction means, other than perhaps reflecting the belief among many progressive bloggers that Edwards is not viable and that HRC has all but wrapped up the nomination, barring a late charge by Obama, whose “good cop” number in Philadelphia belied all the predictions that he might try to take HRC’s head off.

3 comments on “Good Cop, Bad Cop

  1. noexpert on

    I also like Obama, but am becoming convinced he can’t win. I see him trying to remain true to himself, which is more uniter than attacker. If this can be done successfully, he needs to be more passionate and inspiring. I don’t know if he is on the stump, but I’m not seeing it on my TV or in the papers.
    I agree with a blogger at TPM cafe that none of the candidates are articulating the dem vision well. Whoever does that will get my vote. There’s another good post at TPM about “conviction politics” from a guy running for congress in Virginia that made sense to me.
    On the other hand, I am actually staring to like Hillary (Evasive) Clinton again. I get her reluctance to be pinned down on specifics that will be distorted and used against her, and am hoping to see her explain her views on immigration in a more coherent and persuasive manner.
    As I am clearly confused about winning political stratgy, I’ll keep checking back here for insights.

  2. edkilgore on

    Beats me. You’ve articulated one theory for Obama’s approach: the hope that Edwards will conduct a murder-suicide, like Gephardt did in 2004. Another is that he’s just not comfortable in the attack mode. You kinda got the feeling watching him last night that he was struggling with his staff’s instructions.
    Thanks for the comment.
    Ed Kilgore

  3. aml on

    i’m an obama supporter – with edwards as my #2 – but am getting a bit disappointed that i’m not seeing more fight out of BO.
    the guy talked up his organizing creds leading me to believe that he knew both the when and the how of ratcheting up pressure and taking control of a situation, but i’m not seeing that.
    is his strategy to allow edwards to deliver the hits in hopes of keeping his positives high while the field is whittled down?


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