There are few Democrats willing to openly state that Hillary Clinton’s email scandal makes them nervous that she’ll get indicted in the heat of the general election campaign, but some observers believe it’s an undercurrent of anxiety that explains some of Bernie Sanders’ rise, and perhaps Donald Trump’s crossover appeal.
“It does give pause to Democrats who are concerned that there may be another shoe to drop down the road,” The Hill quotes University of New Hampshire poli-sci professor Andrew Smith saying.
“I think the clock ticks louder every day. I’m sure they’re all incredibly sensitive to it,” said FBI veteran Ron Hosko, who was former assistant director of the Bureau’s criminal investigation division.
University of Massachusetts Dartmouth political-science professor Doug Roscoe thought indictment anxiety would be more likely to “sour some folks in the middle,” and damage Clinton by obliging her to defend herself from the scandal, instead of pushing her campaign message.
A bit further down the anxiety scale, The Hill has lawyer Bradley Moss speculating the indictment of Clinton’s top aides Cheryl Mills, Huma Abedin, and/or Jake Sullivan was a more likely outcome, due to their “sloppiness and the complete fundamental failure to comply with any aspect of operational and informational security.”
Those quotes neatly cover the spectrum of Clinton scandal fears, which could only be completely dispelled by a swift and complete exoneration from the FBI. At this point, even the commonly-floated scenario of the Justice Department ignoring FBI referrals to bury the scandal would still bruise Clinton badly, especially if angry agents – maybe even FBI Director James Comey – protest loudly, or resign. The hardcore Clinton faithful aren’t nearly enough to get her over the finish line after something like that, especially since her generally lackluster performance on the campaign trail leaves her without an Obama-sized cult of personality.
It seems unlikely that the FBI would conduct such a huge, long-running investigation, involving so many resources, to give Clinton’s operation a clean bill of health, especially given what the public has already seen of her emails. Throwing an aide or two under the bus might protect her from a game-over indictment, but it would look awful to everyone except those hardcore True Believers. It would galvanize Clinton’s opposition, appear deeply suspicious to independent voters, and puncture her claims of management skill.
At the moment, the possibilities are hurting Clinton in the primary.
As The Hill points out, the FBI is all but promising the end of this drama will arrive during the general election campaign – a problem of Clinton’s own making, because she and the State Department worked so hard to conceal information from Congress and the American people for so long. This all could have been over a long time ago, if we didn’t have to unravel Clinton’s evasions one Freedom of Information Act lawsuit at a time.
Clinton knows how much the uncertainty is hurting her, because she suddenly abandoned her modified limited hang-outs to begin loudly declaring she did nothing wrong. No more of the tepid “I could have done a better job answering questions earlier” or “That was a mistake, I’m sorry, I take responsibility” stuff she was dishing out in September.
Now an angry, defiant Clinton says you were a fool if you took her phony apologies seriously five months ago. “No, I’m not willing to say it was an error in judgment because what – nothing that I did was wrong. It was not in any way prohibited,” she insisted at the emergency “town hall” CNN provided to shore up her collapsing poll numbers.
As if we needed yet another demonstration that Democrats think “I take responsibility” means I shouldn’t be held accountable for anything, and you need to quit bugging me about it. “I take responsibility” is how Democrats pronounce last rites over a story, before their mainstream-media undertakers bury it.
She’s defiant now because there is no longer any percentage in pretending to be contrite. It’s all or nothing, with no real downside for public denials if she gets indicted, and political profit to be reaped if she doesn’t. Clinton’s primary objective right now is to reassure jittery Democrat primary voters that she’ll get through this latest scandal. She might be effectively out of the race right now, if Bernie Sanders had chosen to hit her on the email scandal instead of giving her a pass.
NPR and the New York Times were writing about Clinton scandal anxiety all the way back in August, as Sanders’ rise destroyed her aura of inevitability in the Democrat primary. The Times based its analysis on “interviews with more than 75 Democratic governors, lawmakers, candidates, and party members,” revealing “widespread bewilderment that Mrs. Clinton has allowed a cloud to settle over her candidacy.”
Those leaders might be less willing to express their bewilderment now, with the primaries at hand, and Sanders bidding fair to become a party nominee they feel even less confident about than Hillary Clinton. The upshot of the Party unrest in August was Clinton getting the message that she couldn’t laugh the email scandal away, and needed to get serious about dealing with it… leading to the very same “I take responsibility” patter she angrily repudiates today. There’s no question about what happened: she tried saying “I’m sorry,” and it didn’t work, so she’s not sorry any more.
Then and now, voters said they don’t trust Clinton, and the email scandal is a big part of the reason why.
For different reasons, voters of both Left and Right don’t trust the government she served in, either. They’re worried about national security – a concern that tends to rise and fall with news events, causing concern about Clinton’s handling of classified information to rise and fall with it.
Clinton surrogates are worried enough to begin attacking Bernie Sanders as an unelectable “socialist”… trashing a years-long campaign to convince Americans that socialism isn’t a dirty word. They’re painting Sanders as a Republican stalking horse, even though they know that argument will absolutely enrage Sanders supporters, especially the Democrat youth vote. There are whispers Sanders might be able to smash through Clinton’s South Carolina “firewall” if he wins both Iowa and New Hampshire. A diagnosis of extreme political anxiety seems appropriate.