Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts did not win Wednesday’s Democratic primary debate in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont did. You would think otherwise, however, based on how members of the press are covering it.

“The runaway winner was Warren,” Mother Jones Editor-in-Chief Clara Jeffery declared.

Vox proclaimed elsewhere, “Warren won.”

The Daily Dot’s Ramon Ramirez added, “Warren won the night with palpable energy.”

“Warren won, Bloomberg lost, can we all go to bed now?” asked CNN contributor Sally Kohn.

Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

The problem with these analyses is that they proclaim a thing that simply is not so.

Warren spent the entire evening gutting everyone onstage except for Sanders, the most obvious obstacle to her own success and the one candidate most likely to win the Democratic Party’s nomination this summer.

Warren eviscerated former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg for his alleged history of sexual misconduct. She accused former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of being beholden to wealthy donors. Warren went after Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s healthcare plan. The Massachusetts senator even attacked Vice President Joe Biden for working with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

It is true: Warren did an amazing job landing blows on people who have little to no chance of winning the nomination. She spent the entire evening attacking candidates who poll in second, third, fifth, and sixth place. But not first place. She largely left that individual alone. If it is considered “winning” to allow the front-runner to escape a high-stakes, last-chance primary debate unscathed, all while running defense for him against his enemies, I would hate to see what these people consider losing.
Reporters who say Warren “won” are engaging in that persistent and annoying brand of political commentary in which “winners” and “losers” are declared based entirely on appearances and entertaining applause lines, as opposed to results and actual winning strategies. Speaking of strategies, what is Warren’s game anyway? Best I can figure, there are three theories for why she played nice with Sanders.

First, Warren is auditioning to be the Vermont senator’s running mate for the 2020 general election. And if not vice president, Warren may be angling for a role in the Sanders administration.

Second, Warren is hoping that her debate performance will convince people that, of the two hard-line left-wingers on the stage, voters will see her as the more vibrant and likable. Perhaps the play is that, given the choice between Sanders and Warren, her combative performance will convince voters that she is the one to take on President Trump in the fall.

Lastly, as Tablet magazine’s Yair Rosenberg threw out Wednesday evening, perhaps Warren is trying to market herself as “the failsafe candidate in case of a contested convention or Bernie having a health issue.”

At any rate, by refusing to engage the front-runner, all while taking down his other opponents, Warren did not win the debate for herself. She won it for Sanders.