Hillary's rickety bridge to White House Image Credit: Niño Jose Heredia/©Gulf News

She came. She saw. She conquered. Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state, calmed Democratic nerves last week with a masterful performance in the first debate for Democratic presidential candidates, hosted by CNN in a gilded Las Vegas debate hall.

More than once, Hillary turned lines of attack to her advantage. Over two hours, she batted away political baggage, such as a federal investigation into her use of a private email server while she was at the State Department.

She conceded nothing; nobody could lay a glove on her. It was really quite a remarkable feat.

When asked about how she has positioned herself as both a moderate and a progressive, Clinton declared: “I’m a progressive that likes to get things done.”

When it was pointed out that she voted for the Iraq war — “the worst foreign policy blunder” in US history according to her rival, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont — Clinton issued a sharp retort: US President Barack Obama went on to make her his secretary of state. If he trusted her judgement after that vote, why shouldn’t we?

Sanders did little to damage her. Indeed, Clinton’s greatest break came with his assertion that “the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails!”

Hillary couldn’t have agreed more. The three others on stage hardly mattered. Martin O’Malley, former Maryland governor, and Jim Webb, a former Virginia senator, both felt out of touch with the party.

Cringeworthy performance

Webb’s more conservative leanings might have been a better fit in 1992, when former president Bill Clinton, was running. Clinton utterly dismissed any damage O’Malley might have inflicted by mentioning his backing for her 2008 presidential campaign. Lincoln Chafee, from Rhode Island who is polling near zero, turned in an especially cringeworthy performance.

This is a long way from saying Clinton’s team has reason to be ecstatic. They will hope that by effectively casting herself as heir to the Obama presidency, Clinton will have effectively cut off any plausible rationale for Joe Biden, the Vice- President, to enter the race.

How can you come to the rescue of a party when the frontrunner isn’t vulnerable? Biden, whose indecision is starting to wear thin, needs to enter in the next two weeks to meet certain deadlines for being on the ballot.

One more hurdle Hillary has to clear to keep Biden out of the race looms on the horizon. Later this month, she is due to appear publicly before the House Select Committee investigating the 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

This represents perhaps the last potential risk that could derail her candidacy. Assuming she avoids any egregious legal mistakes, it’s possible her public comments — such as the time she said: “What difference does it make?” to a question over whether the attacks arose from pre-planned terrorism or a spontaneous uprising — could reignite lingering concerns about her abilities.

So she could still stumble. But after the first Democratic debate, the chances of anyone stopping Hillary from winning the party nomination appear minuscule.

If Biden doesn’t throw his hat in the ring, she will be the only viable Democratic candidate. That means she can harness her energy and resources to focus on the Republican nominee — whoever that is.

Clinton is the likely Democratic nominee, but it is hard for any political party to win three consecutive terms. Rather than obsessing over possible Clinton scandals, the Republican party should instead worry about nominating a serious candidate capable of winning in their own right.

— The Telegraph Group Limited, London 2015

Matt K. Lewis is a senior contributor at The Daily Caller website in Washington, DC and author of Too Dumb To Fail.