In elections generally – but this one in particular – things are not always what they seem. Take the apparent exculpation of Hillary Clinton by FBI Director James Comey. The Democrats responded with a statement that the issue is now “resolved” because the target will not be indicted. But, not so fast.
The failure to indict was not an exoneration, and what the public witnessed – the secret meeting between the head of Justice and target’s husband, the job offer to Clinton’s would-be prosecutor, and the FBI’s dossier of her misdeeds – was in effect a second trial, and it came with a conviction. The former Secretary of State has lied to Congress and the public, and not about private matters like sexual escapades with interns. She has lied about national security matters, and was reckless in handling secrets that affect the safety of all Americans. Worse, the fact that she appears to be getting away with a serious crime is a dramatic confirmation of Trump’s campaign narrative: the system is corrupt, the fix is in, I will change all of this.
The Comey episode also turned a lot of Republican heads – most notably House Speaker Paul Ryan’s – who have been openly skeptical of Trump’s candidacy, and lukewarm in endorsing his campaign. Until that moment, the failure of some Republicans to rally behind the Republican nominee, indeed to refrain from seconding Democrat attacks, has been the chief weakness of Trump’s candidacy. When Trump objected to an obviously biased judge – a member of “La Raza” and opponent of securing the border – Ryan and other Republicans joined the Democrats in the ludicrous charge that Trump was a racist. (What Republican candidate in the last thirty years have the Democrats not slandered as racist?) But Ryan is not attacking Trump now. Instead he is calling on officials to remove Hillary’s security clearance – a strong signal to voters that she is not fit to be commander-in-chief, and a powerful reinforcement of Trump’s campaign theme.
At the moment, Trump is in a virtual dead heat with Hillary, which is remarkable considering the slanderous attacks on his character not only by Democrats but by the chorus of #NeverTrump Republicans who have also called him a sexist and xenophobe, and have compared him to Mussolini and Hitler. These negatives have hurt him but will ultimately fail for the same reason the anti-Trump attacks in the primary failed. Trump is not an unknown quantity. He has been in front of the American public for thirty or forty years. Nothing in the public record would validate the charge that Trump is a racist, let alone Hitler. Consequently, these negatives are unlikely to override the actual issues when voters make the judgments that will determine the election. At the same time, the obviousness of the slanders merely serves to confirm Trump’s narrative that corrupt elites fear him and will do anything to prevent him from upsetting their applecarts.
The reason Trump will win in November is that national security is at the top of voter concerns and Trump has been a strong advocate on this front. Beginning with his promise to build a wall, national security issues – vetting Syrian Muslim refugees, rebuilding the military, “bombing the sh-t” out of ISIS and naming the enemy – have been centerpieces of his campaign. Of course, he has also had help from the terrorists who carried out the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino and Orlando, and from a feckless Obama who refuses to recognize the Islamist threat. But so did Mitt Romney, who had Benghazi and Fort Hood and the same feckless commander-in-chief to work with. Romney, however, chose not to do so. He took the war issue off the table when he embraced Obama’s foreign policy in the third presidential debate and never tried to make it central again.
Since World War II, no Republican has won the popular vote in a presidential election where national security has not been a primary issue. The one seeming exception is Bush’s victory in 2000. But Bush did not win the popular vote even though he was able to get the necessary majority in the electoral college. In this election, Trump has instinctively seized the high ground on national security. He has put the disasters of Obama’s Middle East retreats front and center, and has challenged the crippling denial of the commander-in-chief and his failure to take appropriate measures to defeat our enemies at home and abroad.
Thanks to nearly eight years of a party in power that refuses to secure our borders and is more interested in disarming law-abiding Americans than confronting the terror threat in our midst, national security is now a primary issue on the minds of all Americans. Donald Trump speaks to those concerns in a way that the damaged and compromised Hillary cannot. Her fingerprints are all over the disastrous Obama policies in the Middle East. National security is an issue that crosses party lines and also gender lines. Even more important, it is an issue that unifies the Republican coalition, whose current disunity is Trump’s greatest weakness. With the fallout from Hillary’s server fail as a backdrop, Trump should be able to bring his party together at the upcoming convention, and go on to secure a victory in November.