Who won tonight’s debate?

I really shouldn’t be picking a winner of tonight’s debate inasmuch as (1) I didn’t watch all the way to the bitter end and (2) I don’t understand Democrats very well anymore. However, it seemed to me that Hillary Clinton was the winner.

The only serious competition on the stage was Bernie Sanders. However, he took a beating early on over his lack of willingness to support extremist anti-gun legislation. Sanders’ attempts to defend his record on the ground that he represents a rural state fell flat.

Sanders rallied in the middle portion of the debate, but by then I felt that Clinton needed to be taken down a peg or else she’d be the winner.

Sanders doesn’t want to go negative on Clinton, however. Thus, when the question of her emails came, he proclaimed himself “sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.” “Enough of the emails,” he bellowed. Realizing that Sanders was giving her a get-out-of-jail card (not literally, she doesn’t need that yet), Clinton nodded vigorously and then shook Sanders’ hand warmly.

It was basically the same on policy issues. Sanders focused on his leftist votes but did not hammer Hillary for her votes to the contrary.

Sanders might have hoped that the other candidates would take on the hatchet man role. But Martin O’Malley, who undoubtedly would like to be part of a Clinton administration, wasn’t up for the role, though eventually he criticized Hillary a little for being too friendly to big banks.

Jim Webb seemed to be in his own universe. His reputation for combativeness notwithstanding, he wanted to talk mostly about himself and about China.

Lincoln Chafee did go after Hillary on her emails and her vote to go to war with Iraq. But being attacked by Chafee is like being flogged with a wet noodle. After he argued (contra Sanders) that the email issue is important because it goes to credibility, moderator Anderson Cooper asked Clinton whether she wanted to respond. She declined.

But Hillary didn’t have a good night merely because she avoided effective attack. She had a good night because, in my opinion, she spoke well and, when a debate occasionally broke out, debated well.

There were a few awkward moments. When Cooper (who didn’t shy away from tough questions and insistent followups) pointed out that during this campaign season, Clinton has described herself as both a progressive and a moderate, she responded “I have a range of views.” No kidding.

Overall, though, I suspect that Clinton’s performance tonight will, at a minimum, stop the bleeding (at least until more of those “damn emails” are released). It may also give Joe Biden something more to chew on. If he’s on the stage debating Clinton, he may need to bring his “A” game (assuming he has one — laughing at this opponent, as he did with Paul Ryan, won’t be tolerated in a debate with Clinton).

Republicans should take note, as well. Clinton may be a stiff on the campaign trail (though our Council Bluffs correspondent says she’s getting better), but on tonight’s evidence she’s no pushover in debates.