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Hillary Clinton is the most likeable when she’s being unlikeable.

One of her very few charming moments in the very shouty Democratic debate on Thursday night happened while Bernie Sanders was attacking her for not being bold enough on climate change. “We have a crisis of historical consequence here, and incrementalism, these little steps, are not enough,” Sanders said. At that moment, Clinton picked up her pen, clicked it, and began writing. As Sanders continued to criticize her record, she dramatically circled whatever she wrote, clicked the pen, put it down, and then smiled with great satisfaction. She seemed confident she was about to own Sanders with what she circled.


“I have laid out a set of actions that build on what President Obama was able to accomplish,” Clinton said, defending her incrementalism. “I don’t take a backseat to your legislation that you’ve introduced that you haven’t been able to get passed.” (This sick burn might be what gave her so much satisfaction. A few in the crowd murmured “ohhhh.”) “I want to do what we can do to actually make progress in dealing with the crisis. ... My approach is going to get us there faster without tying us up in political knots with a Congress that still would not support what you are proposing.”


For years Clinton has been criticized as not likeable enough. But she’s not charming when she’s trying to be nice, talking about babies and yoga and relatable lady stuff. She’s charming when she’s being a nerd who thinks she’s going to crush it on some political point. One of Clinton’s biggest successes early in the campaign was her 11-hour performance in the Benghazi hearings. She wasn’t nice. Look at her face:


She made it very obvious she was bored by the ease with which she was dispatching her opponents. And she was widely praised.