The first Democrat presidential debate on Tuesday evening was an opportunity for the unknown challengers to Hillary Clinton to make an impression, and it's fair to say they did. The four men on stage showed they lack the ability and will to take her on.
The most important moment of the debate came when CNN's Anderson Cooper gingerly raised the issue of her private emails as Secretary of State. Bernie Sanders, who is leading in the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, replied by giving her a whitewash. Americans "are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails," he declared. The Democrat crowd loved it, and so did Mrs. Clinton, who shook Mr. Sanders's hand in gratitude after having ducked Mr. Cooper's question by dismissing the whole issue as a Republican attack.
Only Lincoln Chafee dared to suggest that her "credibility" might be an issue for voters, but he apologized for doing even that. If Democrats aren't willing to raise the main reason that Mrs. Clinton is losing in head-to-head polls against most Republicans—her penchant for ethical corner-cutting and deceit—then they are essentially putting their nomination into a Clinton blind trust.
The debate went a long way to proving how weak this Democrat field is. Mr. Chafee is a former Republican and failed Governor of Rhode Island whose reason for running is "ending the perpetual wars," though he didn't say how. That's a nice sentiment if you're a priest, but maybe not a President.
Jim Webb, the former Virginia Senator and Navy secretary, is a thoughtful man with experience. But he's clearly running in the wrong party. You could hear the roar of silence from the crowd when he opposed racial preferences for non-black minorities or talked about his war record or the need for the US to resist Chinese dominance of the South China Sea.
Martin O'Malley, the former Maryland Governor, is your man if you feel the pressing need to restore the 1930s' Glass-Steagall Act that separated investment and commercial banks. Other than that, he sounded like Hillary-lite.
As for Mr. Sanders, he rehearsed his well-known populist riffs against "millionaires and billionaires" and a "rigged" economy—notwithstanding seven years of President Obama's policies. But his debate performance mainly proved that he is too far left even for most Democrats. He said his economic models are Denmark and Sweden, except even those countries have had to rein in their entitlement states.
The Vermont Senator praised Edward Snowden, the security thief who fled to Moscow with US secrets. He also indulged the left's fantasy of a "political revolution," leaving it to Mr. Webb to inject a note of reality by saying the revolution isn't coming and that Congress isn't likely "to pay for a lot of this stuff."
All of this left the field wide open for Mrs. Clinton, who posed as the heir to President Obama who wants to "go even further." Her competitors played into her hands by making their policy attacks mainly about the past—her vote for the Iraq war in 2002 or her husband's economic policies. Unless Vice President Joe Biden joins the race, the Democrat Party's Clinton coronation is back on schedule.