They celebrated her bid to revolutionize gender politics in the nation’s highest office. They praised her performance before the Select Committee on Benghazi last October and downplayed some of her less charismatic moments on the national stage. They were armed with a robust arsenal of sound bites and knew how to spin her weaknesses into headline gold.

But four-fifths of Saturday’s Hillary Clinton panel at Politicon 2016 — Paul Begala, former Bill Clinton aide turned CNN pundit; Wendy Davis, former Texas senator; Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky secretary of state; and Joanne Bamberger, editor of The Broad Side — clearly were not interested in challenging the Democratic presidential candidate’s qualifications or leadership skills.

That task was left solely up to the fifth panelist, GOP strategist Mike Murphy, at the pop-culture-meets-politics power huddle at the Pasadena (California) Convention center. Scanning the audience in an unsuccessful hunt for a fellow Republican, Murphy quickly broke through the others’ talking points with his own three-point assessment of Clinton: “I’m not with Hillary because: 1) She’s a liberal Democrat; 2) I believe she was an undistinguished secretary of state, and 3) I think she has a bad set of ethical cataracts,” he said.

That wasn’t enough to stop Begala from making shows of devotion to Clinton (“she’s strong for us”) as well as Begala’s former boss Bill Clinton (“the most remarkable politician I’ve ever seen”) and even the Clinton Foundation (“I think they ought to get the goddamn Nobel Peace Prize”), which in Begala’s estimation stands as an unassailable, global-scale Robin Hood operation.

Lundergan also came prepared with catchy and alliterative endorsements such as these three Cs she used to describe Clinton: “Somebody that has compassion, conviction and is one hell of a courageous lady.”

It didn’t end there. “For me, I want someone that delivers results, and not somebody that just delivers insults,” Lundergan added. “That was practically Begala-worthy,” said moderator and CNN commentator Sally Kohn.

Wendy Davis also performed predictably, invoking the welcome image of having “someone in the White House who has lived the experience of what it means to be a woman in America” before touching on several gender-related issues as variations on that theme: pay equity, family leave, reproductive rights, child care. “We have had a lot of friends in the White House — we have never had a champion, and it’s damn time we had one.”

Again, Murphy was alone in his dissent, arguing that the Clinton camp’s strategy of pointing out gender discrimination on the campaign trail could hurt her and taking his colleagues to task for their unabashed sales pitches. “It’s OK to admit she’s a mediocre candidate — it’s not like disloyalty. It’s true,” Murphy said, before segueing into an impromptu product-placement segment.

“How many of you have had Dasani bottled water?” he began. “Now, we can all kind of admit that it’s pretty crappy bottled water. But we sure drink a lot of it. Why? It’s distributed by the almighty Coca-Cola company so you cannot escape the stuff … everywhere you go, you bump into Dasani water. It is hard to beat distribution. And in this election, she has the distribution because Trump water will kill you.”

Poking fun at the other four panelists, Murphy offered them reassurance: “It’s OK; you will all still be able to get jobs in the administration.” He probably wasn’t kidding.

Videos from the Hillary Clinton panel:

Paul Begala compares Hillary Clinton’s character to Donald Trump’s:

Mike Murphy compares Hillary Clinton to Dasani bottled water:

–Posted by Kasia Anderson

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