Back in May (“Hillary’s Wounds”) I made this prediction about the email controversy (and other unforced errors by Clinton):
Her errors will make it impossible for her to effectively attack Trump; she will be constantly on the defensive. She won’t be able to keep the focus on Trump’s refusal to release his income tax forms. She won’t be able to hammer him for his many inconsistencies and offensive comments. She could well lose in November. And if she wins, it won’t be by a big enough margin to carry the Senate (much less the House). It would be another four years of the partisan ugliness and gridlock that we have come to know in the Obama years.
Well, here we are. The FBI report does not recommend prosecution, but says nonetheless that Clinton and her staff were “extremely careless” in working with official communications, that there were a substantial number of communications that involved information that was classified at the time, and that it cannot be conclusively stated that her emails were not hacked.
An indictment would have ended her campaign, but this outcome threatens to put a big enough hole in her hull to sink her in the course of the campaign.
An indictment would have ended her campaign, but this outcome threatens to put a big enough hole in her hull to sink her in the course of the campaign. It goes directly against the narrative of competence and trustworthiness that Clinton is trying to convey, and plays directly into the Trump narrative of “Crooked Hillary.” As I said in the previous essay, she will be constantly on the defensive, unable to make the election about Donald Trump’s fitness for the presidency.
She could withdraw, even at this late date, and clear the way for an alternative nominee (could be Bernie, could be Joe Biden, could be Elizabeth Warren), but I think that is extremely unlikely. It would be to admit that she’d been, finally, defeated by the relentless, quarter-century Republican campaign to bring her down.
But if she is to stay in the race and prevail, she ought to start with perhaps the most important speech of her life, taking ownership of her errors and making her case to be considered anyway. Then she has to do what she clearly hates doing: open herself up to any and all questions and attacks. Many of the attacks will be unfair and even scurrilous, but she’s the one who provided the ammunition. She needs to repeat and enhance her performance before the Benghazi investigation committee. She needs, above all, to give straight and believable answers. By doing this, she can continue to draw a contrast with the opaqueness of Trump’s finances and the sheer nuttiness of his policies.
She needs to do it now, not next month, not when she’s backed into a corner and forced to do it. She has to see that this issue can still sink her. An aggressive, open and rapid response is absolutely essential, however contrary it may be to her normal (and normally laudable) tendency to deliberate before speaking or acting.
She is still, by far, more qualified than Trump to be President. She needs to give rational voters a reason to look past her faults and her errors, to believe in her capacity to be a truly extraordinary President, even if some of them can’t quite bring themselves to like her. A Trump presidency would be an unmitigated disaster, but her campaign has to be about more than “I’m not Trump.” And that has to start, now, with forthrightly confronting the emails issue.