Last night's Republican debate featured a long segment of the candidates have a ball beating up New York's Junior Senator. They treated Hillary Clinton as if she is already the Democratic nominee, not the presumptive nominee, not even the frontrunner. The actual nominee.
At first blush, this looks like the Republicans fell for her bait. By spending all of that time talking about her, they played into the perception of inevitability she's worked so hard to create. They flattered her with all of the attention. They helped to make her coronation even more likely.
But look deeper. Yes, she looks dominant. Yes, she's got a lot of money. Yes, she's way out in front in the polls. But being that far ahead is no guarantee of winning when people actually cast votes. Just ask Howard Dean, or the ghosts of Paul Tsongas, Edmund Muskie, or Hubert Humphrey.
Time and again, frontrunners have fallen. Especially Democratic frontrunners. John F. Kennedy was an underdog in 1960. So was James "My Name is Earl" Carter in 1976.
As was her own husband in 1992. He didn't even compete in Iowa and came in second in New Hampshire. Two pretty major defeats, and yet he was able to brilliantly reposition himself as the "Comeback Kid."
Voters have a way of resenting being taken for granted, of having their votes counted before they are cast, of being used. Hillary is savoring her frontrunner status, as well she should. But she should not count on it actually meaning much when voting begins. In fact, she should take a page out of Bill's playbook and hope that she actually gets humiliated in the early voting so she can also be a "Comeback Kid."
Building her up, reinforcing her frontrunner status, buying into the coronation looks like it's helping her. But on second thought (and with an eye to history)....perhaps all of the time the Republicans spent talking about her last night wasn't so stupid after all.