Despite some sparks of mutual personal irritation, Thursday night's debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders reflected the stasis that the Democratic race has acquired. Clinton is still the pragmatist with a safe lead, Sanders is still the purist with a devoted base of support. Clinton feels vulnerable enough to Sanders's attacks to insist that he is denying the degree of their actual agreement over issues such as a $15 minimum wage and reforms of the Social Security tax, but not vulnerable enough to actually move her positions on other issues where the two candidates clearly differ (such as foreign policy, free college, and single-payer health care) further to the ideological left.
Any possibility that either Clinton or Sanders might say something particularly new or interesting was snuffed out by the CNN moderators, who were especially fond of cutting the candidates off in mid-sentence just as they were engaging with each other or moving past the two-minute responses that they had already given in previous debates. All in all, it was not a newsworthy event.
The news media face an incentive to hype the race to keep readers and viewers engaged. But assuming that the polls are right and Clinton gains a solid victory in the New York primary on Tuesday, the state of the delegate arithmetic will then become too clear-cut for anyone but the most committed Sanders supporters to ignore. While the final set of primaries will take another six weeks to play out, the final chapter of this contest is now coming into view.