That is manifestly true. He’s infinitely worse, as he insisted on showing us again Wednesday night with that bilious tirade defending his anti-Semitic tweet. The only circumstance under which he belongs anywhere near the White House is when he’s being chauffeured down Pennsylvania Avenue, and even then they should fumigate the place after he goes by.
And it’s not solely that he’s worse. She is, in many ways—ways the media don’t like to recognize—an admirable woman. Critics carry on about how she’s never accomplished anything big and is an archetypal sail-trimmer, and there’s some truth in these critiques. But you don’t get to the cusp of the presidency, especially as a woman, by being a mediocrity. There may be no Marshall Plan she can point to as secretary of state or Dodd-Frank-ish piece of legislation she notched as senator, but she’s accomplished a lot, and had a very consequential career. And while she may end up being a disappointing president, assuming she wins, I think that she also has it in her to be a great one.
But she has this blind spot, and it just has to change before she gets to the White House. I write as one who is on her side, as I’m sure most of you know. Although you may not know my full history on that. Briefly: I wasn’t a Clinton fan in 1992, just on ideological grounds; wasn’t crazy about the New Democrat stuff. It was only in 1998, after the Lewinsky scandal broke, that I saw that all the things my friends Joe Conason and Gene Lyons had been writing about the plot to nail the Clintons was true and then some. And that’s when I became, in the unflattering parlance of our trade, a Clinton defender.
So now the email scandal is behind her, officially. FBI Director James Comey found no grounds for indictment, and Republicans are incredulous, but in real life, there’s often space between bad judgment, even spectacularly bad judgment, and illegality. You only have to watch Law & Order to know that being offended by someone’s behavior is one thing and proving a case is quite another.
Here’s a hypothetical question I haven’t seen anyone ask: What if Comey had sought an indictment, and then Clinton were acquitted two years from now? All Comey would have accomplished would have been to rake an innocent person over the legal coals and in the process hand the country to President Trump.
And speaking of bad judgment, Comey showed some of his own Monday. In his Washington Post column, Matthew Miller laid out a blistering case that Comey’s very decision to call this press conference constituted an abuse of power. I wouldn’t go that far—given that this matter involves a presidential election, the most consequential event on our national political calendar, I think an explanation to the public about Comey’s findings and reasoning was warranted. And it was inevitable that he’d take some shots at her. He is a Republican who’s been on her tail since the Whitewater days, and this is politics.
But it now seems apparent that he exaggerated or twisted some things. And he had no business whatsoever trotting out speculation that her server might have been hacked into without a shred of evidence to support the claim. That was pure innuendo, and he should in fact be reprimanded, if there’s anyone out there who can reprimand him, for saying that.
But back to Hillary: The saga is now officially over, but it won’t be unofficially over for a while yet. Is there anything she can do to make it fade away a little faster? Yes, but I have zero confidence that she’ll do it.
In Clintonland, when they’re in besieged mode as they so often are, they tend to think, from Bill and Hillary on down, about how their reactions will look to their enemies, and whether their responses hand their attackers and the media any fodder. But they ought to think once in a while about how their responses to look to their supporters. You won’t be surprised to hear that I know many of them. A few are with her 100 percent down the line and give no quarter and admit no error. But most think she showed terrible judgment here. In refusing to use a state.gov email address for official business, she let her distrust of her political attackers (Judicial Watch and so on) take precedence over her basic commitment to the public she was serving. And she owes them—us, since this group includes me—an explanation.
“I’m sorry, I made a mistake, it won’t happen again” isn’t enough. Think about when someone in your life lets you down. Those few perfunctory words don’t fix things. For real reassurance, you need to know why it won’t happen again—what they learned. As I wrote the other day, she should speak with specificity about all this. Joan Walsh of The Nation, another defender, thinks so, too.
And Clinton should spell out—again, with real specificity—what steps she’d take as president to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen and to show she would run a clean administration more generally. As I’ve written before, this needs to include a specific explanation about what the Clintons plan to do about the Foundation if they return to the White House. He can’t be running that thing out of the White House, can he? At least not in the way he has been.
Speaking like this would help her. It would reach two groups—those who support her but were disappointed by this episode, who want to see that she’s learned something; and those who have mixed feelings about her but rate her low on trust, most of whom will award her a point or two for facing up to things.
But she won’t. She just doesn’t seem capable of acknowledging error at a length greater than one grudging sentence. Since “intent” is one of the words of the week, I don’t think her intent in not doing this is to take her supporters’ support for granted. But that’s the effect, and it’s going to catch up with her. As president, she must do better.