The contrast between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, startlingly evident in their debate Sunday night, could not be clearer. While devotees of the establishment can tell themselves that Clinton held her own, it is clear she did not.
Sanders had all the passion, anger, force and emotion on his side, and the best Clinton could do was to try to keep it in the park as her rival hit ball after ball. Since primaries are about motivation in getting out the vote, the Vermont senator has it all over Clinton.
So what happens if she:
(a) loses Iowa;
(b) loses New Hampshire;
(c) falls behind Sanders in the national polls and Donald Trump or Ted Cruz in the head-to-heads?
The Democratic howls of concern will be deafening. “She’s blowing it again,” will be the least of what they will say. Democrats will feel trapped with a candidate who is showing before their eyes that she cannot even win a primary, much less a general election.
Some will worry that Sanders, should he be nominated, will be as weak a candidate as George McGovern was in 1972 or Barry Goldwater proved to be in 1964. Others will think that Clinton might skate through with the aid of super delegates, setting up a replay of 1968 with Sanders winning the primaries and the party bosses nominating Clinton.All Democrats will be looking frantically for a way out.
Meanwhile, the FBI will amass evidence that the former secretary of State acted illegally in sending or receiving classified material over a non-secure email server. And it will investigate the uncomfortably close nexus between donations to the Clinton Foundation, speaking fees to the Clintons and State Department actions.
In the end, the decision as to whether to indict a presidential candidate in the middle of an election will rest with the Justice Department and, indirectly, with the president.
If Clinton is cruising to the nomination, winning the primaries and running well against her likely Republican opponent, they will likely decide that indicting her would be an undue interference with the political process.
But if Sanders does his job and the race is close and Clinton is behind her general election challenger, then all bets are off.
There will be a frantic scramble to head off the certain defeat that would come either through nominating Bernie Sanders or a badly beaten up Hillary Clinton. Because of the lateness of the hour, no new candidate could qualify delegates to form slates in the primary states. The pressure will grow on Clinton to withdraw and release her delegate slates to another candidate: Joe Biden. Should she refuse, the chances of her indictment — or the threat of it — might increase.
The party could try to get Martin O’Malley to turn his delegates into Biden slates. Or the Democrats could do worse than to nominate O’Malley.
All is possible in a post-Clinton world.
To make matters worse for Clinton, the former secretary stupidly boxed herself in on ObamaCare. Trying to frame Sanders’s “Medicare for All” alternative as “starting over,” she pleaded for staying with ObamaCare rather than making a new departure. In doing so, she opened herself up to an attack on the issue.
Now, anyone who feels that premiums are too high, deductibles too large and co-payments too expensive — despite their overall support for the program — has to see Sanders as offering a hope of improvement and Clinton as being wed to the status quo. Her argument — that we should build on ObamaCare rather than start over — is the kind of inside-the-Beltway rationalization that works well with people who are not in trouble or in pain.
The future is bleak for Mrs. Clinton.