Nate Silver believes he has cracked the code on Hillary Clinton’s devastating loss this past November: “Hillary Clinton would probably be president,” he writes, “if FBI Director James Comey had not sent a letter to Congress on Oct. 28.” She would have gotten away with it, if not for that meddling Comey!
Pundits and prognosticators have been struggling to explain Clinton’s loss for months now, in much the same way that a star high school quarterback will stand on the football field for hours after losing the big game, wondering how he could have missed that last two-point conversion. As with that high school star, it is likely that this agonal what-if-it-had-beenism regarding the 2016 election will, for many people, last for a very long time, maybe forever.
But we should help these people out, not leave them wallowing in the missed opportunities and passed-by chances of a bygone year. We should not be afraid to tell the Nate Silvers of the world the uncomfortable but undeniable truth. James Comey did not cost Hillary Clinton the election. Hillary Clinton did.
To give Silver credit, it is likely true that Comey’s October 28 letter did affect Clinton’s poll numbers and ultimately her shot at the presidency. I am not sure who in this country was still an undecided voter on October 28, 2016, but anyone who was legitimately torn between the two dumpster fire campaigns last year would conceivably have been repulsed by yet another revelation in the whole sordid Clinton e-mail affair.
Everyone Knows Hillary Is a Crook
Why this should be surprising or noteworthy is beyond me. Here is a crazy fact about American politics: when American voters are under the impression that a candidate for president is a serial, remorseless lawbreaker and liar, many are not going to vote for that candidate.
In a sane world this would hardly be worth a squib in a local newspaper, let alone a long, deep, data-driven analysis by arguably the most famous statistician in the world. Hillary Clinton broke the law. There is simply no debating this. It matters not one whit if there was “no criminal intent” to her lawbreaking, any more than it matters if an exceptionally drunk driver has “no criminal intent” when he gets behind the wheel of his Festiva. The statutes that cover Clinton’s criminal behavior do not rely on intent, merely outcome.
The electorate may be ignorant about a great many things, but the marked lawlessness of Clinton’s behavior was apparent to even the most uninformed of voters. The proper way to assess the 2016 election is thus not to say, “Comey’s letter cost Hillary the election,” but rather, “Hillary’s criminal behavior cost her the election.” We should speak plainly and honestly about where the culpability really lies.
Yet a queer strain of American politics and political analysis tries desperately to absolve the Clintons from any direct responsibility for their criminal behavior and ineptitude. When Bill Clinton was impeached, it was not because he committed felony perjury against an American court of law but because Republicans were puritan scolds upset over a blow job. When Hillary Clinton lost the 2008 primary, it wasn’t because she is a notably talentless politician with a chronic inability to resonate with voters, it was because of sexist media coverage.
Now, having run a dismal campaign overshadowed by her own demonstrably criminal behavior, Hillary is being absolved yet again. Rather than acknowledging that her obvious lawbreaking finally caught up to her, we are instructed to see her as a passive victim of “Comey’s letter,” like a Victorian belle ruined by a salacious society column.
Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election, and she did so likely in large part because she broke the law on an industrial scale. She is no victim. Comey’s letter likely did contribute to that loss. But this does not change the fact that the ultimate practical responsibility for that letter lies not with Comey—who was simply upholding his professional obligation to investigate criminal activity—but with Hillary Clinton, the progenitor and the manageress of that criminal activity.
Voters faced two unlikable choices last November. In the end they voted against the candidate who so clearly and obviously perpetrated a great many serious crimes. Voters can thank Comey for shining light on those crimes at the eleventh hour, and Hillary can blame nobody but herself for committing them.