Seven days out from the election, there was more irritating small stuff:
The surprise tweet from a little-used FBI account came about 1 p.m. Tuesday, announcing that the agency had published on its website 129 pages of internal documents related to a years-old investigation into former president Bill Clinton’s pardon of a fugitive Democratic donor.
The seemingly random reminder of one of the darkest chapters of the Clinton presidency a week before the election drew an immediate rebuke from Hillary Clinton’s campaign – with its spokesman tweeting that the FBI’s move was “odd” and asking whether the agency planned to publish unflattering records about Republican candidate Donald Trump.
“Will FBI be posting docs on Trump’s housing discrimination in ’70s?” asked Brian Fallon.
No, they won’t:
For the second time in five days, the FBI had moved exactly to the place the nation’s chief law enforcement agency usually strives to avoid: smack in the middle of partisan fighting over a national election, just days before the vote.
The publication of the files related to the Marc Rich pardon inquiry, which agency officials said was posted automatically in response to pending public records requests, came as the Clinton campaign and Democratic lawmakers continued to fume over FBI Director James B. Comey’s decision with less than two weeks before the election to announce that he was effectively resuming a review of Hillary Clinton’s email practices.
Comey did say they might not find anything at all in all those emails they had found on the laptop of the estranged husband of one of Hillary Clinton’s staffers – no one had really looked yet and they were just getting a warrant to look – but he wanted the Republicans in Congress to know these had turned up three weeks earlier and, eleven days before the election, he let them know – and let the Americans voters know – that there were more emails – maybe. They might be duplicates. They might be irrelevant – shopping lists and sports talk. And yes, the FBI doesn’t comment on ongoing investigations. And yes, the FBI never does anything that might affect the outcome of an election within sixty days of an election – but Comey did this anyway. The Republicans in Congress were pissed that, in July, Comey had said he’d looked into everything and there was no reason to recommend to the Justice Department that Hilary Clinton be charged with anything. This would prove he wasn’t Hillary’s tool – or else he assumed that certain of his agents who had it in for Hillary all along were going to leak the fact that there were these possibly relevant emails out there and he wanted to head them off at the pass – so he wouldn’t look like Hillary’s tool.
But of course all hell broke loose, and he still has these rogue agents. After years, this dormant Twitter account was suddenly fixed and what was backlogged suddenly spat out, automatically, seven days before the election? It was an IT issue and not intentional? No one believed it for a moment, as it concerned this:
Rich, who received his pardon on Bill Clinton’s last day in the White House, had fled to Switzerland after learning he would be indicted on a charge of tax evasion in the 1980s. The investigation, conducted between 2001 and 2005, was disclosed in news accounts at the time and looked at whether Clinton had issued the pardon in exchange for political donations, including to Hillary Clinton’s 2000 Senate race and to the Clinton Foundation. It was closed with no charges.
Even back then there was nothing there, so this was just one more irritant for the Clinton campaign. James Comey cannot control his own agency. The Clinton campaign will just have to deal with seven more days of rogue FBI agents dumping random sort-of dirt from the distant past all over her campaign, day after day. The FBI has effectively taken sides. The FBI – not the one James Comey imagines – does not want her to be president. Consider it a given.
These things happen. For most of the year the Russian government has hacked into all DNC and Clinton campaign internal communications, all the private emails from anyone to everyone, and into their data files, lists of donors and strategy documents, and handed it all to WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks keeps publishing what it thinks is most damaging at just the worst moment for the Clinton campaign – but the Clinton campaign is used to that by now. For them, that’s just another day at the office. Don’t complain. Don’t whine. Deal with it. There are always workarounds.
The New York Times reports on how that is going, as this is the workaround:
Hillary Clinton moved on Tuesday to return the nation’s focus to the character and behavior of Donald J. Trump, hoping to define the presidential race again as a referendum on her opponent after spending days in open conflict with the FBI.
Though Mrs. Clinton’s aides continue to insist that the FBI director, James B. Comey, acted improperly by delivering an ambiguous update last week about the investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email server, her team seems to have arrived at a firm conclusion about the election’s final sprint: It is better for Mrs. Clinton to be talking about Mr. Trump.
That’s what she did in Dade City, Florida:
“When I think about what we now know about Donald Trump,” Mrs. Clinton told supporters here at an outdoor rally, “he sure has spent a lot of time demeaning, degrading, insulting and assaulting women.”
“I would frankly rather be here talking about nearly anything else,” she insisted, but “we’ve got to talk about something that, frankly, is painful. Because it matters. We can’t just wish it away.”
Her remarks signaled the campaign’s direction in the homestretch: a barrage intended to disqualify Mr. Trump with brutal efficiency and destined to overshadow any high-minded message about Mrs. Clinton’s vision, as she seemed to admit.
So forget the FBI stuff and forget being high-minded and play the greatest hits:
She reminded the crowd of Mr. Trump’s comments about Senator John McCain of Arizona, who he suggested last year was not a war hero because he had been captured.
She recalled Mr. Trump’s history of questioning President Obama’s birthplace.
And her introductory speaker was a familiar figure: Alicia Machado, the former Miss Universe whose weight Mr. Trump once disparaged. Mrs. Clinton’s invocation of Ms. Machado at the first presidential debate ensnared Mr. Trump in a protracted feud with the pageant winner, damaging his already precarious standing with women.
“I was scared of him,” Ms. Machado said, adding, “He thinks he can do whatever he wants and get away with it.”
Ah, but throw in at least a bit of something positive, briefly:
She has spoken often of wanting to give Americans “something to vote for, not just against.”
Mrs. Clinton did not entirely abandon earnestness on Tuesday, urging the crowd to unite behind her “positive, optimistic, hopeful and unifying” message.
“I will give my heart to this mission to making the country all it should be,” she said, asking voters about the example they hoped to set for their children.
But the thrust of her address was clear, buttressed by the campaign’s broader efforts to reach voters in the contest’s last-days as polls have shown the race tightening, at least somewhat.
Trump, however, countered that pretty well:
Though Clinton advisers are eager to spark a furious response from Mr. Trump, as they succeeded in doing during and after the debates, he largely declined to take the bait, at least initially, in his first appearance on Tuesday.
Instead, he turned his gaze to the president’s health care law, saying its repeal should be a top priority for voters casting ballots over the next week.
He said that if elected, he would call a special session of Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act and asserted that millennials would be “totally crushed by these massive health care costs before they even get started on their journey through life.”
And at a second event on Tuesday night, in Eau Claire, Wis., Mr. Trump offered a “public service announcement” for any Democrats with “a bad case of buyer’s remorse” after voting early for Mrs. Clinton.
Yes, he didn’t mention the FBI either. Perhaps the FBI doesn’t matter, and it’s back to basics, but if so, Paul Waldman suggests that the Republicans are in trouble:
While we may get another scandal later this week (and why not), it would be fitting if this was how the 2016 presidential election ended: with the media in an utter frenzy and Republicans carried aloft on a wave of joyous outrage over a story about Hillary Clinton that has literally zero substance to it, but consists only of speculation about hypothetical crimes that someone might have committed.
This is what happens when a party nominates Donald Trump to represent it. The Republican reaction to the James Comey mess highlights the moral and psychological compromises the GOP has made in order to justify its choice, and this will poison our politics for years to come.
Those compromises are the problem:
Right now there are basically two kinds of Republicans, if we set aside that small number who have decided that they simply cannot support Trump. There are the enthusiastic Trump supporters, and then there are the reluctant ones, who find him repellent but nonetheless prefer him to the alternative. Both these groups have convinced themselves that Hillary Clinton is not merely wrong on the issues or even unethical, but positively evil, a figure of such transcendent malevolence that American politics has never seen anything like her before.
That’s the poison:
Consider this poll out today from Politico and Morning Consult, which asked whether respondents agreed with Donald Trump’s assertion that, as the poll read, “The issues around Clinton’s emails are worse than Watergate.” Eighty-two percent of Republicans said they agreed. Eighty-two percent.
So that’s become an almost universal belief among Republicans: Clinton’s use of a private server for her emails is worse than the worst political scandal in American history, in which an entire panoply of crimes was committed by dozens of people, including break-ins and money-laundering and document-forging and obstruction of justice, in which those who went to prison included the attorney general, the White House chief of staff, and the president’s chief domestic policy adviser, in which the president of the United States resigned after his own party informed him he was about to be impeached and would surely be convicted. The email story is worse than that.
This is not merely wrong or ahistorical. It’s lunacy. It’s like saying, “This paper cut I got on my finger? Worse than pancreatic cancer.”
To illustrate that, Waldman notes the opening of this story from Daniel Dale of the Toronto Star:
“She’s a whore,” said Jim Brewster, a 62-year-old farmer, as he walked into the bakery for some coffee.
“Murderous, rotten, no-good, pious bitch,” said Waldo Ward, a 60-something retiree, as he left Walmart with Halloween candy for the neighborhood kids. “She should be taken out and shot. Absolutely.”
“I confess that I’m a Christian, and I shouldn’t hate, but it’s awful close,” said Charles Graves, a smiling 71-year-old recently retired from a career in logistics.
“It’s not like I’m not a Donald Trump fan,” said Rusty Gibson, 47, an electrician. “But it’s like good versus evil.”
Dale didn’t go a Trump rally to get these quotes; he just visited a random town in Virginia.
To be sure, there are many conservatives who would never use those kinds of terms to describe Clinton, and they can make a rational case for voting for Trump based on simple policy preferences. Despite his obvious lack of sincerity or interest in policy, he’ll have no particular reason not to follow through on most of what he has said he’ll do, if for no other reason than the fact that he’ll fill out the executive branch with Republican officials who will do pretty much what they would have done under any Republican president.
But that’s not the point:
What those more reasonable conservatives can’t say is that Trump isn’t an awful person. He’s an obvious misogynist, he’s an utter ignoramus, he’s a xenophobic bigot, he’s an appalling narcissist, he’s without question the most startlingly dishonest person ever to run for president, he has an almost pathological need to take vengeance on anyone who criticizes him, he’s an advocate of all manner of violent brutality, he has a long history of stiffing small businesspeople who do work for him, he does things like walk into dressing rooms full of teenage girls so he can watch them undress (a trick he bragged about using on adult beauty contestants), he has mounted one business scam after another to take money from unsuspecting marks, he cheats on his wives, he takes credit for charitable contributions he doesn’t make, he has naked contempt for the most fundamental principles of democracy – in other words, though as far as we know he hasn’t actually killed anyone with his bare hands, Donald Trump is just about the worst human being you’re ever likely to encounter.
Otherwise he’s a fine fellow, and a great Republican, and would make a fine president, which is the poison at work here:
If that’s your candidate and you realize all this – even if you think that some of those personality traits and pieces of personal history are, in the end, not all that meaningful to the job he’s seeking – it’s even more important to argue that his opponent is far, far worse. And given how epically repugnant Trump is, you have to work hard to convince yourself that Hillary Clinton is an absolute monster.
This is what brings enthusiastic and reluctant Trump supporters together: their shared belief in Clinton’s all-encompassing villainy. The kind of rhetoric you hear from Trump every single day at his rallies is unprecedented in modern history, and everyone in the party has become invested in it. Either you’re a Trumpster shouting “Lock her up!” or you’re someone like Paul Ryan whose argument is essentially, “Sure Trump is awful, but Clinton is such an ungodly fiend that we have to support him.”
Both groups agree on Clinton, and both have reason to paint her in the worst possible terms, not just to others but to themselves.
Now THAT is getting down to basics, just like Clinton is now doing, except it’s not the same thing. Clinton cites what Trump has actually said, and what he’s said, on record, that he’s done, before he decided to say he never said what he said and never did what he once bragged he did, not that it matters:
At this point there’s absolutely nothing that could persuade either group otherwise, because we’re at the tail end of this psychological journey they’ve been on. If the FBI ends up declaring that there’s nothing new or incriminating in Huma Abedin’s emails, Trump’s fans will become even more enraged; it won’t be a problem for them to swing right back to believing that the whole Justice Department is in on the conspiracy, or at the very least that the full measure of Clinton’s unspeakable crimes has simply yet to be revealed.
And that creates a new basic:
If you think that all this will fade into the past once the election is over, you’re fooling yourself. Republican officeholders will arrive on Capitol Hill ready to wage war on this demon they’ve built up in their own minds – and they’ll know that if they waver, they’ll be pilloried by constituents whose loathing of Clinton has been brought by this campaign to levels that we couldn’t even have imagined before it began. That could well be the central dynamic of the next four years, as Clinton tries to move forward on policy and Republicans compete to see who can present themselves as the most venomous Clinton-hater in Washington. Sounds like a terrific recipe for responsible governing, doesn’t it?
Steven Dennis and Sahil Kapur note that that question answers itself:
There’s a potential nightmare for Hillary Clinton if she wins the presidency but Republicans hold onto control of the Senate – a blockade of her Supreme Court picks.
That prospect – which could impact every aspect of American life including climate regulations, abortion and gun rights – was first raised by Senator John McCain of Arizona, then Ted Cruz of Texas and now Richard Burr of North Carolina, who CNN reported Monday talked up the idea at a private event over the weekend.
“If Hillary Clinton becomes president, I am going to do everything I can do to make sure four years from now, we still got an opening on the Supreme Court,” Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told a group of Republican volunteers, according to CNN.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell hasn’t publicly endorsed Burr’s strategy, which is aimed at denying a lasting, liberal majority on the court, but he hasn’t disavowed it either.
There will be no responsible governing if this election turns out as it might:
Democrats could circumvent a GOP blockade if they control the Senate by changing the chamber’s rules, even though that would be a controversial move. But a Republican-held Senate could deny Clinton the 60-vote margin needed to advance high-court picks on the floor.
Control of the Senate is on a knife edge in the polls, with a half-dozen races considered tossups and the latest revelations about the FBI reviewing additional Clinton e-mails adding even more uncertainty in the final week.
There’s no constitutional requirement that the Senate confirm anyone. But blocking nominees for an entire presidential term would be unprecedented. The longest Supreme Court vacancy lasted 835 days in the 1840s, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Is that getting back to basics? We go back to 1840 again? That’s where this is headed:
On Oct. 17, McCain told a radio station, “I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up.” His office later backtracked, saying he would examine each nominee.
Cruz took it a step further last Wednesday, telling reporters there “is certainly long historical precedent for a Supreme Court with fewer justices,” according to the Washington Post. “That’s a debate that we are going to have.”
The same day, conservative legal scholar Ilya Shapiro of the Cato Institute said it plainly in a piece for TheFederalist.com titled, “The Senate Should Refuse to Confirm All of Hillary Clinton’s Judicial Nominees.”
He argued that the Senate, which has total authority on whether to bring up nominations, “is fully within its powers to let the Supreme Court literally die out.”
On Monday night, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky added his voice, making clear the kind of hurdles that any Clinton nominee would face, even if he or she is given a vote on the Senate floor.
“I can’t imagine voting for a Clinton nominee unless she would appoint somebody that actually were someone who believes in the separation of powers as the founders wrote into the Constitution,” he said in a debate with Democratic challenger Jim Gray, according to the Associated Press.
On the other hand, there’s this:
Conservative legal scholars are split on a total blockade.
“That’s going to be difficult, because the pressure will be unrelenting to move along, especially after Republicans have not moved on Merrick Garland’s nomination,” said Roger Pilon, the founding director of the libertarian Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies and a member of the Federalist Society.
“It will be another variation of the shutdown situation, whereby a media sympathetic to the Clinton administration will tar and feather the Republicans, and will likely further marginalize them,” he said, noting that there is no precedent for a wholesale blockade of a Supreme Court vacancy regardless of nominee.
That sounds familiar. That’s the basic shutdown strategy, except this time the government doesn’t shut down. This time critical legal questions don’t get resolved, for four years, and eventually they cannot be resolved at all because there’s no Supreme Court left – and the Republicans then ask America to admire them for sticking to their principles, no matter what – and America calls them fools and they wonder why, and keep losing elections. That’s the same basic stuff from the last eight years. All the twists and turns of this election year will then seem minor matters. It all comes down to quite basic politics. It always does.