I think the whole brouhaha over the Clinton campaign's attempt to cast their candidate as the victim of a group of male bullies in the last debate - what the Standard's psuedonymous Richilieu calls the "battered-candidate defense" - offers an interesting case study in Jay Cost's persuasive theory about the distinction between the "perpetual campaign" (where candidates jockey for media attention, fund-raising dollars, endorsements, and so on) and the "real campaign" (where they try to win actual votes). From the vantage point of the perpetual campaign, Hillary's victim act looks idiotic: Absolutely nobody in the D.C. commentariat is buying it, which sets her up for all sorts of unfavorable insider-ish coverage. But since the people running the Clinton campaign aren't exactly idiots, I think one has to assume that they consider the gender card a sufficiently potent vote-getting tool in the real campaign to make it worth playing, whatever the blogs and political talk shows say.

The only alternative explanation I can think come up with is that they feel like they have a lead and they need to run out the clock, and the more they can make the press talk about "Hillary and the six guys," even if the spin runs against her, the less talk there is about "Hillary and Obama and Edwards," or just "Hillary and Obama." There's no such thing as bad publicity, this theory might run, so long as that publicity prevents any single rival from the gaining traction: The longer it takes to go from six-on-one to one-on-one, the better for the one.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.