It’s been over seven months since Donald Trump took office, and it seems readily apparent that he will not be winning over any moderate or independent voters between now and 2020. Between his unsuccessful healthcare reform initiative and his incendiary Twitter feed, Trump is fumbling and stumbling worse than George W. Bush. Although his base has remained surprisingly loyal, Trump’s ultra-slim margin of victory in a handful of states guarantees that he will be a one-term wonder if he loses any more support.
But a recent development offers the beleaguered President a glimmer of hope: Two Republican U.S. Senators, including a noted Trump critic, are alleging that former FBI director James Comey exonerated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton before her aides were interviewed by agents. For those who may not remember, former Secretary of State Clinton was under investigation for criminal wrongdoing in maintaining a private e-mail server against the policies of the State Department. While Clinton supporters, primarily centrist Democrats, blasted the investigation as a big “nothingburger,” opponents insisted that it exposed the former U.S. Senator’s negligence as a leader.
In the end, James Comey publicly cleared Clinton of criminal prosecution in early July of 2016, soothing centrist Democrat fears and guaranteeing that the political insider would clinch the presidential nomination over left-wing rival Bernie Sanders.
Clinton’s e-mail scandal roared back into the headlines in October, when the FBI director reported that the agency was re-opening the investigation. Potential new Clinton e-mails had been discovered on the computer of disgraced former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY), then-husband of top Clinton aide and confidante Huma Abedin. Ultimately, the Weiner thing fizzled, and Clinton was cleared once more, but many claim that the FBI director’s October announcement scuttled her election chances even as she was poised for a sweep.
If the last-minute specter of scandal did sink Hillary Clinton on the final approach to Election Day, could reintroducing it be an intentional plan to boost a floundering GOP?
For now, the announcement by U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) appears supported by rather questionable evidence. In a letter to the current FBI director, Christopher Wray, the Senators present a somewhat ambiguous transcript of an interview with two FBI employees. At least one asserts that James Comey had begun drafting his letter clearing Hillary Clinton of wrongdoing in “April or early May,” but cannot put a “precise timeframe on it.” The Senators then include a list of all the Clinton aides who had yet to be interviewed by the FBI as of early May.
The evidence, if true, will hurt Democrats in the short run. Still smarting from the Democratic National Committee’s unethical hijinks to swing the presidential nomination to Hillary Clinton, the party cannot be associated with more unethical behavior. While James Comey’s improper favoritism toward Clinton may not directly tarnish any 2018 Democratic candidates, it casts a general pall of negativity over the party that can’t seem to find its mojo. Just like Trump himself, Democrats are operating on razor-thin margins of support in many areas If a significant number of moderate and independent voters are abruptly reminded of what they couldn’t stand about Hillary Clinton and her reputation as a political insider, they may swing Republican in the midterms.
Many people voted for Donald Trump simply because they couldn’t stand Hillary Clinton. Widespread dislike of the former First Lady gave her neophyte opponent a boost that was independent of his political experience (or lack thereof) or positions. Since Trump appears to be gaining zero ground in terms of political experience or policy, his only hope on the road to 2020 is for the Democrats to appear, somehow, even more unlikeable and unrelatable than in 2016. Until yesterday, it seemed that nothing could accomplish that feat.
If Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham can dig up concrete evidence that James Comey made the decision to protect Hillary Clinton from prosecution before her scheduled July 2, 2016 interview, they may shore up the GOP’s midterm chances by dealing the Democratic Party a black eye.
But, before Republicans begin celebrating, they should keep in mind that damaging centrist Democrats could result in the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee being a true progressive. Bernie Sanders, remember, performed much better among swing voters than did Hillary Clinton, and thus would more effectively erode Donald Trump’s bloc of support. Knocking the remaining Clintonian moderates out of 2020 contention by tarnishing the reputation of all liberal Washington insiders could doom the GOP to facing a progressive nominee.
The public may be permanently soured on Hillary Clinton and her Washington crew, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that voters will flock to Trump. If the Democratic Party can quickly elevate some true progressives to the podium, voters may flock to them instead of to the GOP.