JAMES COMEY IS NO HERO
So James Comey is shopping a book. Don’t buy it.
In the days following Comey’s highly anticipated testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee in June, journalists and pundits in the major media outlets praised him for being a figure of rectitude who has done a great service to America.
The former FBI Director had exclaimed, on national television, that Donald J. Trump was a liar. He revealed that Trump had asked him for a pledge of loyalty, an unthinkable request by a president to the head of the FBI. Comey clearly damaged Trump and persuaded many legal experts that the President obstructed justice by firing him in the midst of an investigation of possible Trump campaign involvement in the Russian cyber-attack on the U.S. election.
For those Americans desperate to remove from power someone they consider the classic demagogue, a man appealing to the fears and prejudices of his followers, Comey’s takedown of Donald Trump was cheered. These Americans, and there are millions of them, view Trump as a serial liar, a malignant narcissist, a dangerous ignoramus somehow sitting now in the seat once occupied by Lincoln and Roosevelt. They believe him to be a threat to democratic institutions and the rule of law at home, to peace and stability abroad. For many such citizens, James Comey is a hero.
Trump and his lawyers, of course, insisted that Comey was the liar and that President Trump should feel vindicated because the then FBI leader had told him he was not under investigation at that time. This rosy scenario was circulated immediately by talk radio ideologues Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin, Fox News partisans Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, Trump loyalist Newt Gingrich and a variety of fake news merchants on the internet. But few observers — -in fact no one outside of the true believers in the Trump base and most of the GOP Congressional delegation — have paid serious attention to this feeble defense. Comey has hurt Trump and has a played the key role in the naming of a special counsel, who — with his legal team — now will be tracking the Trump-Russia connection.
But James Comey is no hero. For without him, Donald Trump would not be President of the United States.
As we all know, Hillary Clinton decisively defeated Donald J. Trump in the popular vote for President of the United States. It was not close. She had a plurality of almost 2.9 million votes, 48.2% of the total to his 46.1%. In the post WW II era alone, John F. Kennedy (1960), Richard Nixon (1968), Jimmy Carter (1976) had margins of victory decidedly less than Hillary Clinton’s. (George W. Bush, of course, lost by almost 550,000 votes to Al Gore in the troubled election in 2000.)
In this modern era, even the weakest presidential candidate of a major party — in a contest where there is not a serious third party choice — will poll at least 39 per cent of the vote. Every four years, people tend to come home to their favored party. Many would vote for the neighbor’s dog before voting for a Democrat or a Republican. Trump’s 46% is not impressive.
Now one could ask why many hard core Republicans, having followed the campaign and knowing the extraordinarily hostile response to Donald Trump from famous Republicans (including Presidents George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush as well as 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney) would decide to vote for an outsider, a man with dubious party credentials who had pushed aside so many mainstream figures to grasp its nomination. After all, Trump critics might exclaim, their neighbor’s dog is not a serial liar.
Yet most of them (some 90%) did vote for Trump. Because majority rule does not count in U.S. presidential elections, he would gain enough electoral votes in critical “battleground” states to win the White House.
Clinton was not polling well in Ohio and on election night she was beaten by 400,000 votes. She also lost Florida; it was close, but given the Clinton campaign expectations, the Trump win, 49.1 to 47.8%, was a big setback, So too was North Carolina. But Clinton won close races in Nevada, New Hampshire, Colorado, Minnesota and Virginia. In the event, while the popular vote was easily going her way, the decisive electoral vote race would be decided in those states that had gone Democratic in the recent past, the “blue wall” of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. And she would lose every one.
It was very close in each of these contests. Trump won Michigan 47.6% to 47.3%. He won Pennsylvania 48.8% to 47.6%. He won Wisconsin 47.9 to 46.9%. If you put the total margin in all three states together, you would not have enough voters to fill three quarters of the seats at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor or Penn State’s Beaver Stadium in State College; at Camp Randall Stadium at the University of Wisconsin there would still be empty seats.
Three weeks before election day, the overwhelming majority of polls indicated that Hillary Clinton was sharply ahead of Donald Trump and on track for a decisive victory on November 8. Even Trump seemed certain that was going to happen, and already had started his drumbeat of complaints about a “rigged election,” the story he was shaping to deny that the man who insisted he was always a winner had somehow become a loser. The ABC/Wall Street Journal poll had Clinton up by12 pints; others suggested a narrower margin, but Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, NYT Upshot, Real Clear Politics, and Politico all found Hillary Clinton beating Donald Trump. The Cook Report concluded: “It is increasingly difficult to characterize the presidential race as competitive.” Even on election eve, Silver’s 538, while suggesting — as did others — a tightening race, still showed those three “blue wall” states as overwhelmingly likely to go Democratic once again.
What happened? For years to come, political analysts will be arguing about how the most prestigious polls could have missed the outcome in 2016. Yet the obvious reason is that something unprecedented happened in the last two weeks of the campaign. There were a series of “October surprises.”
There were three in particular.
One was the flood of fake stories demonizing Hillary Clinton that suddenly swept across the internet. Some were generated by youthful, unprincipled, money-hungry hustlers in America, eastern Europe and elsewhere hoping to somehow stimulate ad revenue for their sites by inventing derogatory fantasies about Mrs. Clinton that might appeal to the dull-witted and the credulous. Some were created by that poisonous band of right wing conspiracy theorists (notably Alex Jones), who hate Clinton and hoped to reach the same audience. Some were the products of Russian cyber-warriors, a small part of Vladimir Putin’s effort to influence the U.S. election. It is impossible to know the real impact of these false and malicious tales, but they are unlikely to have been decisive, even in this close election.
The second was the larger Russian attack on the U.S. election, and in the last couple of weeks, only hours after the airing of the infamous video of Trump saying he could “grab women’s pussies” with impunity, the releasing of a steady stream of hacked emails from the computers of Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. Designed to blunt the impact of the lurid film and create the image of a ruthless and corrupt Hillary Clinton, the emails became headline news day after day in the mainstream newspapers. All of them, including the Times and Post, seemed willing to be manipulated by Putin. (His Soviet predecessors had called those who became tools of Communist propaganda, “useful idiots.”) The emails were featured on CNN and major network news-casts, they became a part of almost every Fox news show and a staple of right-wing talk radio. Of course, they were re-circulated millions of times on numerous internet websites.
In fact, there were no shocking revelations of any wrongdoing in these stolen internal communications. But reading what political activists said about their adversaries and their colleagues in private, how they planned and shaped their campaign and argued about tactics, somehow seemed ugly and disturbing to some who knew little about politics or what went on in every campaign. The daily dump of purloined Podesta material was aimed at eager recipients of gossip in the press and public. There were colorful talks of infighting in the Clinton Foundation, there were excerpts from Hillary Clinton’s highly paid Wall Street speeches. Certainly, it was all recast by the Trump camp and its talk radio and Fox cheerleaders into something sinister.
Was the Russian cyberwar against America, which began many months before but reached a critical point with this late barrage of leaks, enough to put Donald Trump in the White House? Maybe. But the Russians were not needed. For it was the third October surprise, the actions of our new hero James Comey, that alone were critical in swinging the election away from Clinton and to Trump. It is a story now well known, but it merits retelling in context.
On October 28, less than two weeks before election day, James B. Comey announced, in a letter to Congress, which immediately was made public and became headline news, that the FBI was reopening the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails when she was Secretary of State.
For months this email matter had been at the center of Congressional Republican efforts to demean Clinton and had provided Donald Trump with his most explosive attack lines. Hillary must be guilty of a terrible crime — because thousands upon thousands of her emails containing state secrets were now available to our enemies. She must be punished was the constant refrain on right-wing talk radio and Fox television news. It is “Crooked Hillary,” shouted Trump at every rally. “Lock Her Up” was the orchestrated, screaming reply — often led by Michael Flynn — by the Trump zealots.
All this dated back to July, when Comey had reported the findings of the FBI inquiry into the use of her private email servers by Clinton when she was at the State Department. Her decision to use such servers was revealed during the long-standing and frantic Congressional GOP effort to dig for damaging information about the woman who was clearly the presumptive Democratic candidate in 2016. The Republicans’ repeated tries to find something incriminating in Clinton’s actions following the tragic death of the U. S. Ambassador to Libya had proven a dry hole. But out of the Benghazi matter came the news of the emails.
A brief note about those emails. While Hillary Clinton was unwise to use a private email server, other Secretaries of State had done it earlier. There may have been reasons why she made this deeply regrettable choice, including how Hillary and Bill Clinton had been harassed for decades by a variety of organizations seeking to damage the Clintons. This is a cottage industry on the right. For example, Judicial Watch, a right-wing nonprofit supported by Clinton-hating multi-millionaires, has used a blizzard of lawsuits and Freedom of Information act requests (most of them denied), in search of anything that might be considered hurtful to the Clintons or their friends and associates. In 2016 it was plaintiff in 200 suits involving Mrs. Clinton. Perhaps this helps to explain the reason for her decision to delete the thousands of emails deemed wholly private — after a review by her lawyer, chief of staff and others — before the FBI received the over 30,000 emails in which some work-related material was present.
The hysteria about those 30,000 emails was largely absurd. Comey, in the July press conference, noted that only 110 such emails were deemed as “classified,” 22 “top secret,” 66 as “secret.” Many were not classified at the time sent but were later marked as classified. (As we all should know, a huge amount of bland government documents are routinely marked “classified” by fearful bureaucrats wary of being criticized for lack of vigilance.) There was no evidence that lives were put at risk or great state secrets were involved anywhere in these tiny number of emails. When one realizes that 5.1 million Americans had security clearances to see classified material, that l.5 million had clearances to see top secret material, this should put the Clinton email issue in some more reasonable perspective. (This data never was featured in all the mainstream media palaver about the emails) Moreover, hackers (and we are not even talking here about Edward Snowden, Chelsey Manning or Julian Assange) from Russia, China, criminal syndicates in eastern Europe as well as a variety of individual mischief makers world-wide have broken into computers and emails at Defense, State, NSA and other government agencies. This, too, might help us understand why the Clinton “private email scandal” was a pseudo-event.
But by July, it was not a pseudo-event in the minds of millions of Americans, bombarded by Trump’s cries of Clinton criminality, the right-wing media machine fixation on the topic, and the mainstream media’s decision to provide massive coverage of “the scandal.”
So there would be great interest in what the FBI would say about it all.
It was after consulting with no one, including the Attorney General, that FBI Director James Comey called the July press conference. Now he offered his personal opinions and presented details about the investigation. Then he opened up the Clinton investigative files and had them posted on line. These were actions that were unprecedented, unnecessary and unexplained.
Comey proclaimed he would not be recommending prosecution, because “no prosecutor could ever make a case against her based on the evidence.” He added that not only was there no evidence that “Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information,” there was no evidence that any of her emails ever had been hacked by anyone. But he did not leave it at that. He then gratuitously stated that she and her aides “have been extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”
The long tradition in the Bureau is that when the FBI concludes an investigation with the decision to not recommend charges, that is all the FBI Director should say. It is not the Director’s role to set himself up as an arbiter of competence or morality. Standard practice in the Department is that he should say nothing.
Comey must have known that his negative, ad hominem remarks would be used in intense political attacks. He is not a dunce; he has a J.D. from the University of Chicago and he was well aware that his words would do just that. The email “scandal’ he played the key role in reigniting and expanding in mid summer with this precedent-denying intervention was a theme for Clinton’s opponents and feature on the media in subsequent weeks. As post-election studies confirm, American voters would soon know far more about Clinton emails than any domestic or foreign policy initiatives she was proposing. Try as she may, Hillary Clinton could not break through the media wall of noise about “emails.”
Why did he do it? In testimony before Congressional committees long after the election, he has offered no persuasive explanation.
What he told the committees makes little sense. He said he was concerned that the Clintons might be trying to influence the FBI inquiry because Bill Clinton had boarded Attorney General Loretta Lynn’s plane (when both were traveling and her aircraft was on the tarmac) and then had had a few minute conversation with her. He also recalled that the Attorney General asked him not to refer publicly to an email “investigation,” but to call it a “matter.”
He can’t be serious. The FBI had a lengthy and thorough review before concluding that there was “no there there” in the incessant partisan calls for indicting candidate Hillary Clinton. Bill Clinton said he was only chatting with an old friend on the plane; the optics — of course — were terrible in retrospect. But what did any of that have to do with the FBI findings? And, as former G. W. Bush Justice Department officials have observed, sometimes even they used the terms “investigation” and “matter” interchangeably. (Comey, a life-long registered Republican until 2016 was Deputy Attorney General in this Bush White House.) In either case, there was no possible justification for Comey’s unwarranted anti-Clinton attack in July.
Perhaps there is a plausible explanation. Simply ending the Clinton email affair with no indictment, as the FBI was doing in July, would infuriate the Trump team, the GOP leadership and the conservative media establishment. Sullying Hillary Clinton’s reputation on the way out at least would give them something to go on. James Comey clearly views himself as a person of impeccable ethical standards, an embodiment of integrity, probity, honesty. But maybe not in this case.
By mid-October, the email affair had made a major impact on the presidential race. Perhaps it caused a few Clinton voters to turn to Trump, certainly it persuaded others that it might be better to choose a third party candidate or not vote at all rather than to cast a ballot for Hillary Clinton, seen through the wave of negative stories as a dangerously arrogant, irresponsible, untrustworthy individual. (The “depressed turnout” in parts of the Democratic electorate on November 8 may be evidence of this.) Still, the matter finally was fading from media view as the election approached. Then Comey struck again.
What he did would have been almost comical if it was not so deadly serious. In an entirely unconnected inquiry, FBI agents had been investigating the disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner, who had sent illicit sexual text messages to an underage girl in North Carolina. Agents seized his computers, in which they found material potentially related to the Clinton case, because some emails of Weiner’s estranged wife, Huma Abedin, a senior Clinton aide, were in a laptop. These emails had not been reviewed and FBI agents did not ask Weiner or Abedin permission to review them. No one even tried to get a warrant. In fact, the Bureau knew nothing. But the day after he was briefed about this, with no further information, James Comey sent his letter to Congress. This letter was vague and confusing, leaving it to the politicians (and to reporters) to speculate. Not surprisingly, many Republicans declared the announcement as proof that Clinton was about to be indicted. The internet was alive with false reports that Hillary Clinton, even if elected, might face prison. Fox news and its pundits did wall-to-wall coverage. Network television and the national newspapers featured the story day after day as November 8 approached.
The New York Times and the Washington Post, whose reportage influences other papers, TV reporters and analysts, magazine journalists and elite opinion everywhere, now played a role in advertising this alleged new “scandal.” (The Times decided to headline page one with “New Emails Jolt Clinton Campaign in Race’s Last Days;” journalism critics might be assessing that editorial judgement in future years.) Meanwhile, enraged Democrats called on Comey to provide some information, but all he would say is “there is significant risk of being misunderstood. . .I don’t want to create a misleading impression.”
Comey had been warned by lawyers at the Department of Justice that what he was doing violated long standing department rules against meddling in presidential politics on the eve of an election. Complaints against him almost immediately were filed by ethics lawyers with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.
Rumors would fly about the reasons for his action. Did he do so because he feared that rogue agents in the FBI New York office, an anti-Clinton group he could not control that allegedly had been feeding information to Trump surrogates Rudy Giuliani and Michael Flynn, would leak the story and damage his reputation with Republicans if he did hot have his press conference? Had he been duped into acting by accepting Russian-generated fake stories about Hillary? Or did he really believe that having gratuitously promised to inform angry GOP Congressmen many months before of any new developments in the email saga, he should go public with this letter when there was no evidence to justify it? Whatever the real reason, he created a firestorm of negative publicity about Hillary Clinton at the critical moment.
Nothing could undo his destructive behavior. In fact, he made it even worse on November 6, two days before election day, when he sent a second letter to Congress noting that after finally gaining access to Weiner’s laptop, “based on our review, we have not changed our conclusions that we expressed in July.” Not only was this admission that there was nothing to the entire email saga too late to help, but it even allowed the Trump campaign and its media supporters — in this last hour — to claim that somehow “the Clintons” had rigged the outcome.
In these final days of the campaign, the email affair at last directly intersected the Russian cyberwar against America. On October 30, Harry Reid, Democratic minority leader in the Senate, sent an angry letter to James Comey, complaining of a double standard: Comey had publicly revived the dubious Clinton investigation on the pathetically thin reed of the Weiner computer matter, but kept secret the “explosive information “ of possible ties between Russia and Mr. Trump.
While the Central Intelligence Agency, by the summer of 2016, had concluded that Russia was working to elect Donald J. Trump, the FBI at first insisted that Russia’s cyber-attacks were aimed only at disrupting America’s political system, not getting Trump elected. But as months passed, the FBI changed its view toward the CIA position, and came to believe that Moscow was indeed trying to help put Trump in the White House, finally opening a counterintelligence inquiry. Yet giving new life to the Clinton email affair by announcing a renewed FBI inquiry seemed alright to James Comey, but reporting the FBI investigation of possible Trump ties to an enemy power attacking America, Comey insisted, would interfere with the election. Senator Reid was not the only one who would be fuming.
Bill and Hillary Clinton both would accuse James Comey of costing Mrs. Clinton the presidency. This serious charge has been reported by some parts of the media, but the standard response is that Hillary Clinton is both whining and living in the past; she should accept responsibility for her defeat, keep quiet and let everyone move on.
But there is little doubt that the Clintons are correct. In the few days after the publication of the second Comey letter, in Sliver’s FiveThirtyEight site, Clinton’s probability of victory declined from 85 to 65 percent. She had led Trump by 5.7 percentage points on 538’s popular vote projection at 12:01 am Oct. 28; a week later, her lead declined to 2.9 points.
Nate Silver later would argue that if there had been a “big Comey effect” — 3 to 4 percentage points — Hillary would have carried Florida and perhaps even Arizona and North Carolina. She would have won nationally by over 5 points, a very comfortable victory (instead of her final 2.2 percent margin.) But perhaps more likely, Silver suggests, is the minimal “small Comey effect” — in which James Comey’s indefensible October surprise influenced only one percent of the vote. Even in this scenario, without Comey, Hillary would carry Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. With 278 electoral votes, she would be President of the United States.
As suggestive as is this pollster data, perhaps more persuasive are the exit polls on election day. They also tell a tale of the impact of Comey’s “October surprise.” In those three “blue wall states” alone, of those saying they had made a decision who to vote for only in the last week or ten days, Trump was up 17 points in Pennsylvania, 29 points in Wisconsin, and 11 points in Michigan. These were large groups — over 15 % of all voters in the three states.
And as reported in a recent book (Joshua Green’s “The Devil’s Bargain”), clearly the Trump team recognized the critical role played by Comey. Using his access to internal polls and memos from the Trump campaign, the author reports that Trump’s aides “believed one factor made a bigger difference than any other.” It was the Comey memo of October 28. This memo “got them to come out, not to support Trump but to essentially vote against Hillary, which in the end was the same thing.”
Comey put Trump in the White House. Even if one forgets about the impact of his July press conference and the damage it did to Hillary Clinton’s reputation, of the gift it gave to the GOP attack machine, which long had demonized her and now would use this material in the months ahead, his October action was critical enough. It is not plausible to argue that James Comey’s unwarranted actions at the end of the race did not result — at the very least — in that tiny shift of votes needed to turn this election to Donald J. Trump.
Which makes the events of Spring 2017 even more bizarre. First came Trump’s firing of Comey, an act of reckless stupidity that would assure the appointment of a special counsel and put the new president in even deeper trouble as the Russia probe intensifies. Then — if only temporarily — came the initial excuse offered by Trump and his supporters for the firing: that Comey had to be dismissed because the FBI Director had acted inappropriately and had been unfair to Hillary Clinton on the email matter. Possibly because the immediate reaction to this “explanation” was that it was not only preposterous but laughable — for Trump and his media cheering section had, of course, celebrated Comey’s October email announcement — the President and his friends soon would find other reasons.
It seems clear that Donald Trump would be a private citizen back in Trump Tower, conspiring with Steven Bannon for ways to attack a “crooked Hillary” who had “stolen the election,” if Comey had acted responsibly in July and October. Yet Donald Trump, the great narcissist, could never admit to himself the reason why he is now in the White House.
Which is not to imply that James Comey wanted to elect Donald Trump. There is no indication that he ever liked or supported anything about Trump. As with most other people, he probably expected Hillary Clinton would win, whatever the impact of the email affair. But Donald J. Trump did win, and the Comey actions proved decisive.
Yes, as so many have argued, there are many reasons why Hillary Clinton lost:
First, the “mainstream media” was mesmerized by a flamboyant and outrageous reality TV star who became a charismatic figure for some, a fascinating curiosity for others. It was lucrative for many TV outlets to turn their news programs into “all Trump, all the time.” They gave him billions of dollars of free exposure. Moreover, most could not keep up with Donald Trump’s endless torrent of falsehoods — even if they wanted to challenge them, which many did not. And so the lies and distortions went unexamined.
Second, the decades-long GOP effort to caricature Hillary Clinton as a cold, nasty, greedy and corrupt harridan, a bossy and belligerent woman, was surprisingly effective. Not only with many white working class men but even with college educated Republican women, who apparently were willing to overlook Trump’s misogyny. (The email matter fit perfectly with this anti-Clinton narrative.)
Third — and most important — the Clinton campaign made some significant mistakes. “Stronger Together” at first seemed like a good campaign slogan, and left liberals certainly had argued that demography was on the Democrats side. The young, the women, the African Americans, the Hispanics, the gays, the immigrants and so many others, who for so long had felt pushed aside, were now the majority that would carry the day. It proved a serious miscalculation. Too many people, particularly in the Midwest, the Mountain West, the South and throughout rural America do not seem to believe we are “stronger together.”
For them, it is those formerly marginalized folk who are the problem, they are the “line cutters,” jumping in ahead of them in the queue for the American dream. Because many people in the white working and middle class now feel they are the ones left behind and left out, as the economy has been transformed, with the new technology’s impact on retail business, with the rise of robots and the emergence of China and other global competitors effect on manufacturing. Trump spoke to their anxiety about the future. He spoke to their anger at the liberal coastal elites who patronized and humiliated them, who dismissed them as bigots and dummies.
Like so many populists in American history and in other lands, Trump shrewdly touched the critical nerve. It was not only loss of economic well-being but also status and position in society that made the despair for some so incendiary. Their America had been lost but Trump would bring back their jobs and their dignity. He was big enough and rich enough and tough enough to punish our foreign foes, to clean out the Washington swamp (for years they had been told by the right to loathe the federal government) and to deal with the moochers on welfare in the big cities (we all know who these people are.) He would defy the politically correct lefties in the lying media and the colleges who undermine the police and cosset illegal aliens but care only about things like transgender bathrooms and not at all about preserving traditional family values. He would “Make America Great Again.” His was the slogan that would carry the day in large parts of the country.
The Clinton campaign seemed to think that Donald Trump had alienated so many with his racist, nativist, sexist and xenophobic rhetoric, that so many of his policy proposals were so patently absurd, a striking majority finally would conclude that he was not fit to be president. As back in the Manhattan years, when he was “The Donald” — millionaire, casino-owning, playboy sexual athlete always on the brink of bankruptcy — most would reject him, in David Remnick’s words, as a “semi-humorous buffoon.” But Trump, for all of his campaign blunders, was appealing to many who for years had doubts about the Democrats, whose grandparents had been attracted by George Wallace’s message that the Democrats had abandoned blue-collar whites and become the party of the liberal elites and the welfare constituency, whose parents had become “Reagan Democrats.”
It was essential for Hillary Clinton to make sure that her electoral base was secure, particularly in those blue wall states. She had been told that “stronger together” was not nearly as effective as “America needs a raise” (a phrase from one of her speeches) in appealing to these voters. Yet she never pivoted to meet Trump’s appeal to this critical population. While she and her team did spend a lot of time in Pennsylvania, the candidate did not make a late, full court press in Michigan and Wisconsin, where the election would be lost.
Hillary was not a bad candidate, despite the post-election criticism directed at her (that anyone who does not win must endure.) She won all three debates with Trump. She chose a fine VP running mate. She helped orchestrate a brilliantly successful convention. She was an effective enough speaker, even though her message never penetrated the email wall. She should not be compared to Bill Clinton and Barak Obama. They were extraordinary campaigners: eloquent, articulate, compelling before large crowds and small, once in a generation talents. But compared to Bob Dole, Mitt Romney, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, John Kerry, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, John McCain, et. al. she was just fine. And she easily won the popular vote contest.
In fact, despite the mistakes in her campaign, despite the media fascination that gave Trump his edge with television, despite the nasty GOP program of personal vilification against her, Hillary Clinton would have won the electoral college vote as well as the popular vote if it had not been for the actions of James Comey.
Still, this is not alternative history. Comey did what he did in July and in October. Now Donald Trump is in the White House. It has been only seven months and many are asking whether we can survive much more of his kind of “leadership.”
Trump’s rejection of the Paris Accords, his mindless insistence that global warming is a hoax, his gutting of the EPA, has put the future of country and the planet in greater peril. His attack on “illegal aliens” with the unleashing of the ICE police, has led to accelerated deportation, harassment and fear in the ranks of countless numbers of undocumented people, many who have lived and worked in America for decades. His looming threat — if ever realized — to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, accompanied by the proposed draconian cuts to Medicaid, would put millions at risk and condemn millions more, particularly older citizens and their loved ones, to lives of pain, toil and discomfort. His clumsy, ill-informed forays in foreign affairs already have isolated America and ceded leadership in Asia to the Chinese, in Europe, to the Germans and French. His harebrained war of taunts about nuclear weapons with the young North Korean dictator is testimony not only to his lack of judgment but to the inability of his advisers to control his childish (and inarticulate) outbursts — which someday could get us all killed. His embarrassing embrace of autocrats all over the world is not only disgraceful but suggestive of his own sinister efforts to emulate repressive and authoritarian regimes abroad by conducting a presidential war on the free press at home.
Those are only some of the most dramatic developments thus far. No one knows at this time whether he will be able to implement other parts of his “agenda” or even if he will survive the scandals and fill out his term. But great damage has already been done.
That is the price of James Comey’s handling of the Clinton email matter. Comey, at an early Congressional hearing, remarked that the thought that he might have played a role in the outcome of the election made him feel “mildly nauseous.”
Comey might feel mildly nauseous because he helped put Trump in the White House, but as one Democratic strategist at a major think tank observed, it makes the rest of us feel like we have stomach cancer.