On Friday, news broke that the FBI is examining emails on a computer and iPad that was used by both former Congressman Anthony Weiner and his wife and senior advisor to Hillary Clinton, Huma Abedin, and that these emails may, or may not, be connected to Clinton. This was seized upon by the Trump campaign as evidence that Clinton manifest unfit for office and was broadly hailed as the long awaited “October surprise.” Substantively, it is very evident that this development is not exactly Watergate or Iran-Contra. FBI director James Comey’s decision to share that frankly trivial piece of information with Congress has, rightfully, come under scrutiny. Comey chose to release this information and damage Hillary Clinton with as of yet unsubstantiated innuendo, rather than risk being groundlessly charged by Trump with having helped rig the election. It is not clear whether Comey was trying to influence the election or simply cover his tuchus. Regardless, it was not his finest moment.
Despite Trump’s hopes, the latest twist in the story of Hillary Clinton’s email is unlikely to change the outcome of the election. This story has been around for a long time and has already done about as much damage as it can. It may swing a few of the undecided voters, but there may not be enough them left anyway. It will be more red meat to an already excited Trump base and may slightly reduce turnout for Clinton, particularly among those who supported Sanders in the primary, but she is still very likely to win. The most significant electoral fallout of this may be a that the Democrats longshot road to taking back the House just became even more difficult.
Of course, this could all change and be quickly forgotten if Trump, as he is wont to do, finds himself in another scandal or creates more problems for himself. The best thing Trump could do now is stay out of the headlines for the next 48 hours, but Trump seems constitutionally unable to allow the focus to be on any candidate other than himself. Trump needs this to be an 11 day story, but his own lack of discipline makes that almost impossible.
Although Friday’s events are not going to make Donald Trump the President, they are a reminder of some of the challenges Clinton will face when she gets in the White House, and not just from the Republican Party. The trust issues that have always dogged Clinton and the way she and her husband have long danced up to the line of what is illegal, while frequently crossing ethical boundaries, is real. It is true that much of this is exaggerated by conservatives who have hated the Clintons for decades, but these conservatives hated Barack Obama just as much and his administration was far less enveloped in scandal than Bill Clinton’s. It is also true that there is a no small amount of sexism that fuels this attitude towards Hilary Clinton, but her husband encountered much of it as well, and he is a man.
This may simply be who the Clintons are. If you want the intelligence, competence, centrism and steadiness, and of course not everybody does want all those things, you have to take the ethical lapses and never ending drama. That is an unfortunate trade-off to have to make because ultimately it interferes with governance. Bill Clinton’s second term is a good example of that. While the Republicans in Congress decided the country’s time with impeachment hearings and other partisan nonsense, Bill Clinton gave them the fodder they needed to do that.
One way a President Clinton can avoid this happening to her presidency is to staff her presidency with as few people who are tainted by this scandal as possible. The obvious person who this effects is Huma Abedin. Abedin is, by most measures, a top notch operative who knows Clinton extremely well. She has also become a liability to candidate Clinton and would be a liability to President Clinton. The same, to a lesser extent, can be said of John Podesta, a veteran Washington insider with deep ties to the Clintons, who has been described as having the inside track for the Chief of Staff position in a Clinton administration. Clinton has long valued both of these people for their loyalty, but part of the problems the Clintons have always had is that they need more loyalty because of their frequent ethical problems. Finding key staff who are loyal, competent and not linked to any scandal will be essential for President Clinton, but if she doesn’t even try, we can expect these scandals and ethical quagmires to continue for her time in office as well.
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