The Cleveland debate

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Clinton and Obama both did well. I wouldn't say there was a clear winner, or that anything in the debate was likely to change anybody's mind--despite good probing questions from Russert and Williams. Hillary came across as the more forceful and dominating of the two, as usual, and Obama the more flexible and reflective. They engaged with no issues of substance that have not already been flogged to death, as far as I could see.

I did think Obama was a little tepid in his denunciation of Farrakhan (and he ignored the part of the question that dealt with his own pastor's praise of the man; I would have liked to hear him say something about that). But then I think Hillary neutralised her own slight advantage by making a bit too much of it, in a way that seemed forced. Overall, both mainly just underlined their previous messages. Her line: she is a fighter and he is not. His line: she is a fighter apt to lose, and there is a better way to get things done. (Both cite health reform to prove their points.)

They were both more bitterly opposed to NAFTA than ever. Now they are threatening to tear up the agreement altogether unless it is renegotiated in ways that suit the US. I wonder what Mexico and Canada think about that. So much for the new spirit of multilateralism that will help repair the country's standing in the world. The prospects for liberal trade look bleaker by the week.

The polls seem to be moving Obama's way in Texas and Ohio. I can't see this debate changing that, but who knows?

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Clive Crook is a senior editor of The Atlantic and a columnist for Bloomberg View. He was the Washington columnist for the Financial Times, and before that worked at The Economist for more than 20 years, including 11 years as deputy editor. Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics. More

Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics.

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